Functional genomic and metabolic studies of the adaptations of a prominent adult human gut symbiont, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, to the suckling period

J Biol Chem. 2006 Nov 24;281(47):36269-79. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M606509200. Epub 2006 Sep 12.


The adult human gut microbiota is dominated by two divisions of Bacteria, the Bacteroidetes and the Firmicutes. Assembly of this community begins at birth through processes that remain largely undefined. In this report, we examine the adaptations of Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, a prominent member of the adult distal intestinal microbiota, during the suckling and weaning periods. Germ-free NMRI mice were colonized at birth from their gnotobiotic mothers, who harbored this anaerobic Gram-negative saccharolytic bacterium. B. thetaiotaomicron was then harvested from the ceca of these hosts during the suckling period (postnatal day 17) and after weaning (postnatal day 30). Whole genome transcriptional profiles were obtained at these two time points using custom B. thetaiotaomicron GeneChips. Transcriptome-based in silico reconstructions of bacterial metabolism and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and biochemical assays of carbohydrate utilization in vivo indicated that in the suckling gut B. thetaiotaomicron prefers host-derived polysaccharides, as well as mono- and oligosaccharides present in mother's milk. After weaning, B. thetaiotaomicron expands its metabolism to exploit abundant, plant-derived dietary polysaccharides. The bacterium's responses to postnatal alterations in its nutrient landscape involve expression of gene clusters encoding environmental sensors, outer membrane proteins involved in binding and import of glycans, and glycoside hydrolases. These expression changes are interpreted in light of a phylogenetic analysis that revealed unique expansions of related polysaccharide utilization loci in three human alimentary tract-associated Bacteroidetes, expansions that likely reflect the evolutionary adaptations of these species to different nutrient niches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteroides / metabolism*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genomics / methods
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Mice
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Phylogeny
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Weaning


  • Polysaccharides