Diverse events have transferred genes for edible seaweed digestion from marine to human gut bacteria

Cell Host Microbe. 2022 Mar 9;30(3):314-328.e11. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2022.02.001. Epub 2022 Mar 2.


Humans harbor numerous species of colonic bacteria that digest fiber polysaccharides in commonly consumed terrestrial plants. More recently in history, regional populations have consumed edible macroalgae seaweeds containing unique polysaccharides. It remains unclear how extensively gut bacteria have adapted to digest these nutrients. Here, we show that the ability of gut bacteria to digest seaweed polysaccharides is more pervasive than previously appreciated. Enrichment-cultured Bacteroides harbor previously discovered genes for seaweed degradation, which have mobilized into several members of this genus. Additionally, other examples of marine bacteria-derived genes, and their mobile DNA elements, are involved in gut microbial degradation of seaweed polysaccharides, including genes in gut-resident Firmicutes. Collectively, these results uncover multiple separate events that have mobilized the genes encoding seaweed-degrading-enzymes into gut bacteria. This work further underscores the metabolic plasticity of the human gut microbiome and global exchange of genes in the context of dietary selective pressures.

Keywords: Bacteroides; human gut microbiome; lateral gene transfer; polysaccharide metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacteroides / metabolism
  • Digestion
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism
  • Seaweed* / metabolism


  • Polysaccharides