Glycan complexity dictates microbial resource allocation in the large intestine

Nat Commun. 2015 Jun 26:6:7481. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8481.


The structure of the human gut microbiota is controlled primarily through the degradation of complex dietary carbohydrates, but the extent to which carbohydrate breakdown products are shared between members of the microbiota is unclear. We show here, using xylan as a model, that sharing the breakdown products of complex carbohydrates by key members of the microbiota, such as Bacteroides ovatus, is dependent on the complexity of the target glycan. Characterization of the extensive xylan degrading apparatus expressed by B. ovatus reveals that the breakdown of the polysaccharide by the human gut microbiota is significantly more complex than previous models suggested, which were based on the deconstruction of xylans containing limited monosaccharide side chains. Our report presents a highly complex and dynamic xylan degrading apparatus that is fine-tuned to recognize the different forms of the polysaccharide presented to the human gut microbiota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacteroides / metabolism*
  • Bifidobacterium / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / physiology
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Protein Transport
  • Xylans / metabolism*
  • Zea mays


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Xylans