Natural genetic variation drives microbiome selection in the Caenorhabditis elegans gut

Curr Biol. 2021 Jun 21;31(12):2603-2618.e9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.04.046. Epub 2021 May 27.


Host genetic landscapes can shape microbiome assembly in the animal gut by contributing to the establishment of distinct physiological environments. However, the genetic determinants contributing to the stability and variation of these microbiome types remain largely undefined. Here, we use the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to identify natural genetic variation among wild strains of C. elegans that drives assembly of distinct microbiomes. To achieve this, we first established a diverse model microbiome that represents the strain-level phylogenetic diversity naturally encountered by C. elegans in the wild. Using this community, we show that C. elegans utilizes immune, xenobiotic, and metabolic signaling pathways to favor the assembly of different microbiome types. Variations in these pathways were associated with enrichment for specific commensals, including the Alphaproteobacteria Ochrobactrum. Using RNAi and mutant strains, we showed that host selection for Ochrobactrum is mediated specifically by host insulin signaling pathways. Ochrobactrum recruitment is blunted in the absence of DAF-2/IGFR and modulated by the competitive action of insulin signaling transcription factors DAF-16/FOXO and PQM-1/SALL2. Further, the ability of C. elegans to enrich for Ochrobactrum as adults is correlated with faster animal growth rates and larger body size at the end of development. These results highlight a new role for the highly conserved insulin signaling pathways in the regulation of gut microbiome composition in C. elegans.

Keywords: PQM-1/SALL2; ecology; genetics; gnotobiotic models; host-microbe interactions; insulin signaling; model microbiome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / microbiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Microbiota / genetics*
  • Microbiota / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Insulin
  • Transcription Factors