Given the key role of butyrate for host health, understanding the ecology of intestinal butyrate-producing communities is a top priority for gut microbiota research. To this end, we performed a pooled analysis on 2,387 metagenomic/transcriptomic samples from 15 publicly available data sets that originated from three continents and encompassed eight diseases as well as specific interventions. For analyses, a gene catalogue was constructed from gene-targeted assemblies of all genes from butyrate synthesis pathways of all samples and from an updated reference database derived from genome screenings. We demonstrate that butyrate producers establish themselves within the first year of life and display high abundances (>20% of total bacterial community) in adults regardless of origin. Various bacteria form this functional group, exhibiting a biochemical diversity including different pathways and terminal enzymes, where one carbohydrate-fueled pathway was dominant with butyryl coenzyme A (CoA):acetate CoA transferase as the main terminal enzyme. Subjects displayed a high richness of butyrate producers, and 17 taxa, primarily members of the Lachnospiraceae and Ruminococcaceae along with some Bacteroidetes, were detected in >70% of individuals, encompassing ~85% of the total butyrate-producing potential. Most of these key taxa were also found to express genes for butyrate formation, indicating that butyrate producers occupy various niches in the gut ecosystem, concurrently synthesizing that compound. Furthermore, results from longitudinal analyses propose that diversity supports functional stability during ordinary life disturbances and during interventions such as antibiotic treatment. A reduction of the butyrate-producing potential along with community alterations was detected in various diseases, where patients suffering from cardiometabolic disorders were particularly affected. IMPORTANCE Studies focusing on taxonomic compositions of the gut microbiota are plentiful, whereas its functional capabilities are still poorly understood. Specific key functions deserve detailed investigations, as they regulate microbiota-host interactions and promote host health and disease. The production of butyrate is among the top targets since depletion of this microbe-derived metabolite is linked to several emerging noncommunicable diseases and was shown to facilitate establishment of enteric pathogens by disrupting colonization resistance. In this study, we established a workflow to investigate in detail the composition of the polyphyletic butyrate-producing community from omics data extracting its biochemical and taxonomic diversity. By combining information from various publicly available data sets, we identified universal ecological key features of this functional group and shed light on its role in health and disease. Our results will assist the development of precision medicine to combat functional dysbiosis.
Keywords: butyrate; cardiometabolic disease; ecology; functional stability; gut microbiota.