Strain-level functional variation in the human gut microbiota based on bacterial binding to artificial food particles

Cell Host Microbe. 2021 Feb 10;S1931-3128(21)00037-8. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2021.01.007. Online ahead of print.


Greater understanding of the spatial relationships between members of the human gut microbiota and available nutrients is needed to gain deeper insights about community dynamics and expressed functions. Therefore, we generated a panel of artificial food particles with each type composed of microscopic paramagnetic beads coated with a fluorescent barcode and one of 60 different dietary or host glycan preparations. Analysis of 160 Bacteroides and Parabacteroides strains disclosed diverse strain-specific and glycan-specific binding phenotypes. We identified carbohydrate structures that correlated with binding by specific bacterial strains in vitro and noted strain-specific differences in the catabolism of glycans that mediate adhesion. Mixed in vitro cultures revealed that these adhesion phenotypes are maintained in more complex communities. Additionally, orally administering glycan beads to gnotobiotic mice confirmed specificity in glycan binding. This approach should facilitate analyses of how strains occupying the same physical niche interact, and it should advance the development of synbiotics, more nutritious foods, and microbiota-based diagnostics.

Keywords: bacterial adhesion; glycan recognition and utilization; gnotobiotic mice; imaging microbiota spatial organization; multiplex bead-based phenotypic screens; retrievable artificial food particles.