Metabolic interactions and activity partitioning in a methanogenic, interdomain biofilm
Camilleri, Laura Beth
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Biofilms are an ancient survival strategy in which communities of organisms can grow as a cohesive unit, generally attached to a surface and/or at interfaces. Despite the paradigm that 99% of microorganisms grow as a biofilm in the environment, current research methods are largely limited to monoculture planktonic studies. Although more investigations are trying to improve culture complexity by evaluating interactions between two or more populations, experiments are still more readily performed with microorganisms in the planktonic growth mode. The research presented here aims to elucidate the complexity of interactions between two microorganisms from different domains of life that results in enhanced metabolism due to localization of cells in close proximity within an anaerobic biofilm. Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough (DvH) and Methanococcus maripaludis S2 (Mmp) form a syntrophic mutualism when grown in sulfate-limited media that requires electron flux from DvH to Mmp through what is commonly assumed to be interspecies hydrogen transfer, thereby establishing cross-feeding. The biofilm has been shown to promote a stable and more even carrying capacity for both populations that is likely linked to improved hydrogen transfer (and/or other potential carbon and electron co-metabolites) as compared to planktonic populations. Transcriptomic and proteomic analyses, utilizing RNA-seq and deuterated water respectively, were used to elucidate genes and proteins that contribute to the biofilm growth mode that results in a more efficient metabolism for the syntrophic co-culture (defined by biomass per substrate flux). The results demonstrate the expression of many genes with unknown functions, and others that contribute to cell-cell interactions as well as active proteins in electron processing (e.g., lactate oxidation) in DvH and CO2 reduction (e.g., methanogenesis) in Mmp. A metabolic model of the coculture provided reinforcement for transcriptomic assumptions and aided in the identification of a sulfonate and other amino acids as important syntrophic metabolites. Assessment of biofilm co-culture activity utilizing a new method, Biorthogonal Noncanonical Amino Acid Tagging (BONCAT), showed Mmp was less active in the uptake of a methionine analog as compared to DvH. Alternate assessments confirmed that Mmp was in fact active (based upon methane generation) although translational activity was below the detection limit. Further investigation of the system under sulfate stress showed that the metabolic pairing is more stable than previously thought and could indicate survival strategies that drive the seemingly 'mutualistic' relationship as a forced cooperation. The sulfate stress response coincided with observed lags in DvH growth when grown in Mmp spent medium that was associated with a decoupling of lactate-oxidation and sulfate-reduction. Together the results demonstrate metabolic interactions and activity partitioning within a methanogenic archaeal-bacterial biofilm. The dogma of mutualism being synonymous with equal reciprocity is challenged as it pertains to this model biofilm system. Moreover, this unique bacterial-archaeal biofilm represents interdomain interactions that could represent systems that contributed shared metabolic processes that lead to the development of eukaryotic life.