Phylogeny, culturing, and metagenomics of the human gut microbiota
The human intestinal tract is colonised by a complex community of microbes, which can have major impacts on host health. Recent research on the gut microbiota has largely been driven by the advent of modern sequence-based techniques, such as metagenomics. Although these are powerful and valuable tools, they have limitations. Traditional culturing and phylogeny can mitigate some of these limitations, either by expanding reference databases or by assigning functionality to specific microbial lineages. As such, culture and phylogeny will continue to have crucially important roles in human microbiota research, and will be required for the development of novel therapeutics.
Targeted isolation and cultivation of uncultivated bacteria by reverse genomics
Most microorganisms from all taxonomic levels are uncultured. Single-cell genomes and metagenomes continue to increase the known diversity of Bacteria and Archaea; however, while ’omics can be used to infer physiological or ecological roles for species in a community, most of these hypothetical roles remain unvalidated. Here, we report an approach to capture specific microorganisms from complex communities into pure cultures using genome-informed antibody engineering. We apply our reverse genomics approach to isolate and sequence single cells and to cultivate three different species-level lineages of human oral Saccharibacteria (TM7). Using our pure cultures, we show that all three Saccharibacteria species are epibionts of diverse Actinobacteria. We also isolate and cultivate human oral SR1 bacteria, which are members of a lineage of previously uncultured bacteria. Reverse-genomics-enabled cultivation of microorganisms can be applied to any species from any environment and has the potential to unlock the isolation, cultivation and characterization of species from as-yet-uncultured branches of the microbial tree of life.