A simple path to complexity : horizontal gene transfer in microbial communities

This thesis delves into the pivotal role of Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) in microbial communities, which are vital components of ecosystems, impacting the health of organisms. Genetic variation, significantly driven by HGT, is crucial for ecosystem functioning. The study applied Quistad et al.'s established method for tracking HGT in complex microbial communities. This entailed cultivating compost-derived microbial communities on cellulose paper with the host model organismCaenorhabditis elegans. These communities were then repeatedly treated with Mobile Genetic Elements (MGEs) from other communities to facilitate HGT tracking. Following this, a streamlined and improved pipeline was successfully employed to trace HGT events between these paper-grown communities, utilizing metagenomics data. The research showed that fueling communities with MGEs influenced the fitness of their eukaryotic host, with both positive and negative effects. Microbial composition of host-associated communities remained unaffected. Although metagenomics faced challenges in tracking HGT within the nematode gut, dominant genera like Ochrobactrum and Pseudochrobactrum showed a notable inclination for gene acquisition in this environment. These genomes were effectively monitored and identified as recipients of recent HGT events facilitated by MGEs. This work highlights the value of simplified experimental setups in understanding complex microbial community dynamics and advances our knowledge of HGT's role in shaping community function.


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