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Comprehensive analysis of mobile genetic elements in the gut microbiome reveals phylum-level niche-adaptive gene pools

By Xiaofang Jiang, Andrew Brantley Hall, Ramnik J. Xavier, Eric Alm

Posted 06 Nov 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/214213

Mobile genetic elements (MGEs) drive extensive horizontal transfer in the gut microbiome. This transfer could benefit human health by conferring new metabolic capabilities to commensal microbes, or it could threaten human health by spreading antibiotic resistance genes to pathogens. Despite their biological importance and medical relevance, MGEs from the gut microbiome have not been systematically characterized. Here, we present a comprehensive analysis of chromosomal MGEs in the gut microbiome using a method called Split Read Insertion Detection (SRID) that enables the identification of the exact mobilizable unit of MGEs. Leveraging the SRID method, we curated a database of 5600 putative MGEs encompassing seven MGE classes called ImmeDB (Intestinal microbiome mobile element database) (https://immedb.mit.edu/). We observed that many MGEs carry genes that confer an adaptive advantage to the gut environment including gene families involved in antibiotic resistance, bile salt detoxification, mucus degradation, capsular polysaccharide biosynthesis, polysaccharide utilization, and sporulation. We find that antibiotic resistance genes are more likely to be spread by conjugation via integrative conjugative elements or integrative mobilizable elements than transduction via prophages. Additionally, we observed that horizontal transfer of MGEs is extensive within phyla but rare across phyla. Taken together, our findings support a phylum level niche-adaptive gene pools in the gut microbiome. ImmeDB will be a valuable resource for future fundamental and translational studies on the gut microbiome and MGE communities.

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