Compositional variation of the human fecal microbiome in relation to azo-reducing activity: a pilot study

Gut Pathog. 2021 Oct 8;13(1):58. doi: 10.1186/s13099-021-00454-0.


Background: Through an arsenal of microbial enzymes, the gut microbiota considerably contributes to human metabolic processes, affecting nutrients, drugs, and environmental poisons. Azoreductases are a predominant group of microbiota-derived enzymes involved in xenobiotic metabolism and drug activation, but little is known about how compositional changes in the gut microbiota correlate with its azo-reducing activity.

Results: To this end, we used high-throughput 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing, with Illumina MiSeq, to determine the microbial community composition of stool samples from 16 adults with different azo-reducing activity. High azo-reducing activity positively correlated with the relative abundance of phylum Firmicutes (especially genera Streptococcus and Coprococcus) but negatively with phylum Bacteroidetes (especially genus Bacteroides). Typical variations in the Firmicutes-to-Bacteroidetes and Prevotella-to-Bacteroides ratios were observed among samples. Multivariate analysis of the relative abundance of key microbial taxa and other diversity parameters confirmed the Firmicutes proportion as a major variable differentiating high and non-azo-reducers, while Bacteroidetes relative abundance was correlated with azo-reduction, sex, and BMI.

Conclusions: This pilot study showed that stool samples with higher azo-reducing activity were enriched in Firmicutes but with relatively fewer Bacteroidetes. More samples and studies from different geographical areas are needed to bolster this conclusion. Better characterization of different azoreductase-producing gut microbes will increase our knowledge about the fate and differential human responses to azodye-containing drugs or orally consumed chemicals, thus contributing to efforts towards implementing microbiome testing in precision medicine and toxicology.

Keywords: 16S rRNA; Azoreductase; Bacteroidetes; Firmicutes; Gut microbiota; Pharmacomicrobiomics.