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PLoS One. 2013 Jul 17;8(7):e69184. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069184. Print 2013.

Metagenomic insights into metabolic capacities of the gut microbiota in a fungus-cultivating termite (Odontotermes yunnanensis).

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Key Laboratory of Insect Developmental and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China.


Macrotermitinae (fungus-cultivating termites) are major decomposers in tropical and subtropical areas of Asia and Africa. They have specifically evolved mutualistic associations with both a Termitomyces fungi on the nest and a gut microbiota, providing a model system for probing host-microbe interactions. Yet the symbiotic roles of gut microbes residing in its major feeding caste remain largely undefined. Here, by pyrosequencing the whole gut metagenome of adult workers of a fungus-cultivating termite (Odontotermes yunnanensis), we showed that it did harbor a broad set of genes or gene modules encoding carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZymes) relevant to plant fiber degradation, particularly debranching enzymes and oligosaccharide-processing enzymes. Besides, it also contained a considerable number of genes encoding chitinases and glycoprotein oligosaccharide-processing enzymes for fungal cell wall degradation. To investigate the metabolic divergence of higher termites of different feeding guilds, a SEED subsystem-based gene-centric comparative analysis of the data with that of a previously sequenced wood-feeding Nasutitermes hindgut microbiome was also attempted, revealing that SEED classifications of nitrogen metabolism, and motility and chemotaxis were significantly overrepresented in the wood-feeder hindgut metagenome, while Bacteroidales conjugative transposons and subsystems related to central aromatic compounds metabolism were apparently overrepresented here. This work fills up our gaps in understanding the functional capacities of fungus-cultivating termite gut microbiota, especially their roles in the symbiotic digestion of lignocelluloses and utilization of fungal biomass, both of which greatly add to existing understandings of this peculiar symbiosis.

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