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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Mar 15;108 Suppl 1:4539-46. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1000066107. Epub 2010 Jun 25.

A metagenomic β-glucuronidase uncovers a core adaptive function of the human intestinal microbiome.

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Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Unité Mixte de Recherche 1319 Micalis, F-78352 Jouy en Josas, France.


In the human gastrointestinal tract, bacterial β-D-glucuronidases (BG; E.C. are involved both in xenobiotic metabolism and in some of the beneficial effects of dietary compounds. Despite their biological significance, investigations are hampered by the fact that only a few BGs have so far been studied. A functional metagenomic approach was therefore performed on intestinal metagenomic libraries using chromogenic glucuronides as probes. Using this strategy, 19 positive metagenomic clones were identified but only one exhibited strong β-D-glucuronidase activity when subcloned into an expression vector. The cloned gene encoded a β-D-glucuronidase (called H11G11-BG) that had distant amino acid sequence homologies and an additional C terminus domain compared with known β-D-glucuronidases. Fifteen homologs were identified in public bacterial genome databases (38-57% identity with H11G11-BG) in the Firmicutes phylum. The genomes identified derived from strains from Ruminococcaceae, Lachnospiraceae, and Clostridiaceae. The genetic context diversity, with closely related symporters and gene duplication, argued for functional diversity and contribution to adaptive mechanisms. In contrast to the previously known β-D-glucuronidases, this previously undescribed type was present in the published microbiome of each healthy adult/child investigated (n = 11) and was specific to the human gut ecosystem. In conclusion, our functional metagenomic approach revealed a class of BGs that may be part of a functional core specifically evolved to adapt to the human gut environment with major health implications. We propose consensus motifs for this unique Firmicutes β-D-glucuronidase subfamily and for the glycosyl hydrolase family 2.

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