Untargeted metabolomics of environmental samples routinely detects thousands of small molecules, the vast majority of which cannot be identified. Meta-mass shift chemical (MeMSChem) profiling was developed to identify mass differences between related molecules using molecular networks. This approach illuminates metabolome-wide relationships between molecules and the putative chemical groups that differentiate them (e.g., H2, CH2, COCH2). MeMSChem profiling was used to analyze a publicly available metabolomic dataset of coral, algal, and fungal mat holobionts (i.e., the host and its associated microbes and viruses) sampled from some of Earth's most remote and pristine coral reefs. Each type of holobiont had distinct mass shift profiles, even when the analysis was restricted to molecules found in all samples. This result suggests that holobionts modify the same molecules in different ways and offers insights into the generation of molecular diversity. Three genera of stony corals had distinct patterns of molecular relatedness despite their high degree of taxonomic relatedness. MeMSChem profiles also partially differentiated between individuals, suggesting that every coral reef holobiont is a potential source of novel chemical diversity.
Keywords: coral reefs; molecular networking; small molecules; untargeted metabolomics.
Copyright © 2017 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.