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Nat Commun. 2016 Feb 3;7:10516. doi: 10.1038/ncomms10516.

Marine mammals harbor unique microbiotas shaped by and yet distinct from the sea.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, California 94304, USA.
Department of Statistics, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, Chicago Zoological Society, c/o Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida 34236, USA.
Translational Medicine and Research Program, National Marine Mammal Foundation, San Diego, California 92106, USA.
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, San Diego, California 92152, USA.
Department of Medicine (Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine), Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Marine mammals play crucial ecological roles in the oceans, but little is known about their microbiotas. Here we study the bacterial communities in 337 samples from 5 body sites in 48 healthy dolphins and 18 healthy sea lions, as well as those of adjacent seawater and other hosts. The bacterial taxonomic compositions are distinct from those of other mammals, dietary fish and seawater, are highly diverse and vary according to body site and host species. Dolphins harbour 30 bacterial phyla, with 25 of them in the mouth, several abundant but poorly characterized Tenericutes species in gastric fluid and a surprisingly paucity of Bacteroidetes in distal gut. About 70% of near-full length bacterial 16S ribosomal RNA sequences from dolphins are unique. Host habitat, diet and phylogeny all contribute to variation in marine mammal distal gut microbiota composition. Our findings help elucidate the factors structuring marine mammal microbiotas and may enhance monitoring of marine mammal health.

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