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Emergent Simplicity in Microbial Community Assembly

By Joshua E. Goldford, Nanxi Lu, Djordje Bajic, Sylvie Estrela, Mikhail Tikhonov, Alicia Sanchez-Gorostiaga, Daniel Segrè, Pankaj Mehta, Alvaro Sanchez

Posted 19 Oct 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/205831 (published DOI: 10.1126/science.aat1168)

Microbes assemble into complex, dynamic, and species-rich communities that play critical roles in human health and in the environment. The complexity of natural environments and the large number of niches present in most habitats are often invoked to explain the maintenance of microbial diversity in the presence of competitive exclusion. Here we show that soil and plant-associated microbiota, cultivated ex situ in minimal synthetic environments with a single supplied source of carbon, universally re-assemble into large and dynamically stable communities with strikingly predictable coarse-grained taxonomic and functional compositions. We find that generic, non-specific metabolic cross-feeding leads to the assembly of dense facilitation networks that enable the coexistence of multiple competitors for the supplied carbon source. The inclusion of universal and non-specific cross-feeding in ecological consumer-resource models is sufficient to explain our observations, and predicts a simple determinism in community structure, a property reflected in our experiments.

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