In bacterial communities, "tight economic times" are the norm. Of the many challenges bacteria face in making a living, perhaps none are more important than generating energy, maintaining redox balance, and acquiring carbon and nitrogen to synthesize primary metabolites. The ability of bacteria to meet these challenges depends heavily on the rest of their community. Indeed, the most fundamental way in which bacteria communicate is by importing the substrates for metabolism and exporting metabolic end products. As an illustration of this principle, we will travel down a carbohydrate catabolic pathway common to many species of Bacteroides, highlighting the interspecies interactions established (often inevitably) at its key steps. We also discuss the metabolic considerations in maintaining the stability of host-associated microbial communities.
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