Background: Changes in diet and exercise can alter the gut microbiome of humans and mice; however, few studies to date have assessed the microbiomes of highly fit athletes. In this pilot study, we used metagenomic whole genome shotgun (mWGS) and metatranscriptomic (RNA-Seq) sequencing to show what organisms are both present and active in the gut microbiomes of both professional and amateur level competitive cyclists and to determine if any significant differences exist between these two groups.
Results: Using mWGS sequencing data, we showed that the gut microbiomes of 33 cyclists split into three taxonomic clusters, characterized by either high Prevotella, high Bacteroides or a mix of many genera including Bacteroides, Prevotella, Eubacterium, Ruminococcus, and Akkermansia. While no significant correlations could be found between taxonomic cluster and being either a professional or amateur level cyclist, high abundance of the genus Prevotella (≥2.5%) was significantly correlated with time reported exercising during an average week. Increased abundance of Prevotella was correlated with a number of amino acid and carbohydrate metabolism pathways, including branched chain amino acid metabolism. Further analysis of the metatranscriptome revealed significant taxonomic differences when compared to the metagenome. There was increased abundance of Methanobrevibacter smithii transcripts in a number of professional cyclists in comparison to amateur cyclists and this archaeon had upregulation of genes involved in the production of methane. Furthermore, when methane metabolism was upregulated, there was similar upregulation of energy and carbohydrate metabolism pathways.
Conclusions: These results provide a framework for common constituents of the gut community in individuals who follow an exercise-rich lifestyle. These data also suggest how certain organisms such as M. smithii may beneficially influence the metabolic efficiency of the gut community in professional cyclists due to synergistic metabolic cross-feeding events.
Keywords: Athletes; Cyclists; Exercise; Gut microbiome; Metagenomics; Metatranscriptomics; Microbiota.