Polysaccharide utilization loci in Bacteroides determine population fitness and community-level interactions

Cell Host Microbe. 2022 Feb 9;30(2):200-215.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2021.12.006. Epub 2022 Jan 6.


Polysaccharide utilization loci (PULs) are co-regulated bacterial genes that sense nutrients and enable glycan digestion. Human gut microbiome members, notably Bacteroides, contain numerous PULs that enable glycan utilization and shape ecological dynamics. To investigate the role of PULs on fitness and inter-species interactions, we develop a CRISPR-based genome editing tool to study 23 PULs in Bacteroides uniformis (BU). BU PULs show distinct glycan-degrading functions and transcriptional coordination that enables the population to adapt upon loss of other PULs. Exploiting a BU mutant barcoding strategy, we demonstrate that in vitro fitness and BU colonization in the murine gut are enhanced by deletion of specific PULs and modulated by glycan availability. PULs mediate glycan-dependent interactions with butyrate producers that depend on the degradation mechanism and glycan utilization ability of the butyrate producer. Thus, PULs determine community dynamics and butyrate production and provide a selective advantage or disadvantage depending on the nutritional landscape.

Keywords: Bacteroides; CRISPR-based genome editing; butyrate production; microbial interactions; microbial metabolism; microbiome engineering; polysaccharide utilization loci; synthetic human gut communities; transcriptional regulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacteroides / genetics
  • Bacteroides / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / genetics
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Polysaccharides