A holobiont approach towards polysaccharide degradation by the highly compartmentalised gut system of the soil-feeding higher termite Labiotermes labralis


Marynowska M., Sillam-Dussès D., Untereiner B., Klimek D., Goux X., Gawron P., Roisin Y., Delfosse P., Calusinska M.


BMC Genomics, vol. 24, n° 1, art. no. 115, 2023


Background: Termites are among the most successful insects on Earth and can feed on a broad range of organic matter at various stages of decomposition. The termite gut system is often referred to as a micro-reactor and is a complex structure consisting of several components. It includes the host, its gut microbiome and fungal gardens, in the case of fungi-growing higher termites. The digestive tract of soil-feeding higher termites is characterised by radial and axial gradients of physicochemical parameters (e.g. pH, O2 and H2 partial pressure), and also differs in the density and structure of residing microbial communities. Although soil-feeding termites account for 60% of the known termite species, their biomass degradation strategies are far less known compared to their wood-feeding counterparts. Results: In this work, we applied an integrative multi-omics approach for the first time at the holobiont level to study the highly compartmentalised gut system of the soil-feeding higher termite Labiotermes labralis. We relied on 16S rRNA gene community profiling, metagenomics and (meta)transcriptomics to uncover the distribution of functional roles, in particular those related to carbohydrate hydrolysis, across different gut compartments and among the members of the bacterial community and the host itself. We showed that the Labiotermes gut was dominated by members of the Firmicutes phylum, whose abundance gradually decreased towards the posterior segments of the hindgut, in favour of Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria and Verrucomicrobia. Contrary to expectations, we observed that L. labralis gut microbes expressed a high diversity of carbohydrate active enzymes involved in cellulose and hemicelluloses degradation, making the soil-feeding termite gut a unique reservoir of lignocellulolytic enzymes with considerable biotechnological potential. We also evidenced that the host cellulases have different phylogenetic origins and structures, which is possibly translated into their different specificities towards cellulose. From an ecological perspective, we could speculate that the capacity to feed on distinct polymorphs of cellulose retained in soil might have enabled this termite species to widely colonise the different habitats of the Amazon basin. Conclusions: Our study provides interesting insights into the distribution of the hydrolytic potential of the highly compartmentalised higher termite gut. The large number of expressed enzymes targeting the different lignocellulose components make the Labiotermes worker gut a relevant lignocellulose-valorising model to mimic by biomass conversion industries.



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