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Sci Rep. 2015 Oct 28;5:15782. doi: 10.1038/srep15782.

Bifidobacteria exhibit social behavior through carbohydrate resource sharing in the gut.

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Laboratory of Probiogenomics, Department of Life Sciences, University of Parma, Italy.
APC Microbiome Institute and School of Microbiology, Bioscience Institute, National University of Ireland, Cork, Ireland.
Departamento de Microbiologia y Bioquimica de Productos Lacteos, IPLA - CSIC, Villaviciosa, Asturias, Spain.
Centre for Integrative Biology, University of Trento, Trento, Italy.
Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moorepark, Cork, Ireland.
Broad Institute, 415 Main St., Cambridge, USA.
Department of Food Environmental and Nutritional Sciences, University of Milan, Italy.


Bifidobacteria are common and frequently dominant members of the gut microbiota of many animals, including mammals and insects. Carbohydrates are considered key carbon sources for the gut microbiota, imposing strong selective pressure on the complex microbial consortium of the gut. Despite its importance, the genetic traits that facilitate carbohydrate utilization by gut microbiota members are still poorly characterized. Here, genome analyses of 47 representative Bifidobacterium (sub)species revealed the genes predicted to be required for the degradation and internalization of a wide range of carbohydrates, outnumbering those found in many other gut microbiota members. The glycan-degrading abilities of bifidobacteria are believed to reflect available carbon sources in the mammalian gut. Furthermore, transcriptome profiling of bifidobacterial genomes supported the involvement of various chromosomal loci in glycan metabolism. The widespread occurrence of bifidobacterial saccharolytic features is in line with metagenomic and metatranscriptomic datasets obtained from human adult/infant faecal samples, thereby supporting the notion that bifidobacteria expand the human glycobiome. This study also underscores the hypothesis of saccharidic resource sharing among bifidobacteria through species-specific metabolic specialization and cross feeding, thereby forging trophic relationships between members of the gut microbiota.

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