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ISME J. 2015 Feb;9(2):412-24. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2014.138. Epub 2014 Jul 29.

Exploring functional contexts of symbiotic sustain within lichen-associated bacteria by comparative omics.

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Institute of Plant Sciences, Karl-Franzens-University, Graz, Austria.
Institute of Environmental Biotechnology, Graz University of Technology, Graz, Austria.
Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Institute of Microbiology, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.
1] Institute of Plant Sciences, Karl-Franzens-University, Graz, Austria [2] Institute of Environmental Biotechnology, Graz University of Technology, Graz, Austria.


Symbioses represent a frequent and successful lifestyle on earth and lichens are one of their classic examples. Recently, bacterial communities were identified as stable, specific and structurally integrated partners of the lichen symbiosis, but their role has remained largely elusive in comparison to the well-known functions of the fungal and algal partners. We have explored the metabolic potentials of the microbiome using the lung lichen Lobaria pulmonaria as the model. Metagenomic and proteomic data were comparatively assessed and visualized by Voronoi treemaps. The study was complemented with molecular, microscopic and physiological assays. We have found that more than 800 bacterial species have the ability to contribute multiple aspects to the symbiotic system, including essential functions such as (i) nutrient supply, especially nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur, (ii) resistance against biotic stress factors (that is, pathogen defense), (iii) resistance against abiotic factors, (iv) support of photosynthesis by provision of vitamin B12, (v) fungal and algal growth support by provision of hormones, (vi) detoxification of metabolites, and (vii) degradation of older parts of the lichen thallus. Our findings showed the potential of lichen-associated bacteria to interact with the fungal as well as algal partner to support health, growth and fitness of their hosts. We developed a model of the symbiosis depicting the functional multi-player network of the participants, and argue that the strategy of functional diversification in lichens supports the longevity and persistence of lichens under extreme and changing ecological conditions.

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