Background: The human gastrointestinal tract contains a complex community of microbes, fulfilling important health-promoting functions. However, this vast complexity of species hampers the assignment of responsible organisms to these functions. Recently, Akkermansia muciniphila, a new species from the deeply branched phylum Verrucomicrobia, was isolated from the human intestinal tract based on its capacity to efficiently use mucus as a carbon and nitrogen source. This anaerobic resident is associated with the protective mucus lining of the intestines.
Methodology/principal findings: In order to uncover the functional potential of A. muciniphila, its genome was sequenced and annotated. It was found to contain numerous candidate mucinase-encoding genes, but lacking genes encoding canonical mucus-binding domains. Numerous phage-associated sequences found throughout the genome indicate that viruses have played an important part in the evolution of this species. Furthermore, we mined 37 GI tract metagenomes for the presence, and genetic diversity of Akkermansia sequences. Out of 37, eleven contained 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequences that are >95% identical to that of A. muciniphila. In addition, these libraries were found to contain large amounts of Akkermansia DNA based on average nucleotide identity scores, which indicated in one subject co-colonization by different Akkermansia phylotypes. An additional 12 libraries also contained Akkermansia sequences, making a total of ∼16 Mbp of new Akkermansia pangenomic DNA. The relative abundance of Akkermansia DNA varied between <0.01% to nearly 4% of the assembled metagenomic reads. Finally, by testing a large collection of full length 16S sequences, we find at least eight different representative species in the genus Akkermansia.
Conclusions/significance: These large repositories allow us to further mine for genetic heterogeneity and species diversity in the genus Akkermansia, providing novel insight towards the functionality of this abundant inhabitant of the human intestinal tract.