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mSystems. 2018 Mar 27;3(3). pii: e00195-17. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00195-17. eCollection 2018 May-Jun.

Developing a Bacteroides System for Function-Based Screening of DNA from the Human Gut Microbiome.

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Department of Biology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.


Functional metagenomics is a powerful method that allows the isolation of genes whose role may not have been predicted from DNA sequence. In this approach, first, environmental DNA is cloned to generate metagenomic libraries that are maintained in Escherichia coli, and second, the cloned DNA is screened for activities of interest. Typically, functional screens are carried out using E. coli as a surrogate host, although there likely exist barriers to gene expression, such as lack of recognition of native promoters. Here, we describe efforts to develop Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron as a surrogate host for screening metagenomic DNA from the human gut. We construct a B. thetaiotaomicron-compatible fosmid cloning vector, generate a fosmid clone library using DNA from the human gut, and show successful functional complementation of a B. thetaiotaomicron glycan utilization mutant. Though we were unable to retrieve the physical fosmid after complementation, we used genome sequencing to identify the complementing genes derived from the human gut microbiome. Our results demonstrate that the use of B. thetaiotaomicron to express metagenomic DNA is promising, but they also exemplify the challenges that can be encountered in the development of new surrogate hosts for functional screening. IMPORTANCE Human gut microbiome research has been supported by advances in DNA sequencing that make it possible to obtain gigabases of sequence data from metagenomes but is limited by a lack of knowledge of gene function that leads to incomplete annotation of these data sets. There is a need for the development of methods that can provide experimental data regarding microbial gene function. Functional metagenomics is one such method, but functional screens are often carried out using hosts that may not be able to express the bulk of the environmental DNA being screened. We expand the range of current screening hosts and demonstrate that human gut-derived metagenomic libraries can be introduced into the gut microbe Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron to identify genes based on activity screening. Our results support the continuing development of genetically tractable systems to obtain information about gene function.


Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron; anaerobic sulfatase maturating enzyme; chondroitin sulfate utilization; fosmid library; functional metagenomics; functional screening; gut microbiota; human gut microbiome; metagenomic library; surrogate host

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