Functional Insights into the Kelp Microbiome from Metagenome-Assembled Genomes

mSystems. 2022 Jun 28;7(3):e0142221. doi: 10.1128/msystems.01422-21. Epub 2022 Jun 1.


Eukaryotic organisms evolved in a microbial world and often have intimate associations with diverse bacterial groups. Kelp, brown macroalgae in the order Laminariales, play a vital role in coastal ecosystems, yet we know little about the functional role of the microbial symbionts that cover their photosynthetic surfaces. Here, we reconstructed 79 bacterial metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) from blades of the bull kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana, allowing us to determine their metabolic potential and functional roles. Despite the annual life history of bull kelp, nearly half of the bacterial MAGs were detected across multiple years. Diverse members of the kelp microbiome, spanning 6 bacterial phyla, contained genes for transporting and assimilating dissolved organic matter (DOM), which is secreted by kelp in large quantities and likely fuels the metabolism of these heterotrophic bacteria. Bacterial genomes also contained alginate lyase and biosynthesis genes, involved in polysaccharide degradation and biofilm formation, respectively. Kelp-associated bacterial genomes contained genes for dissimilatory nitrate reduction and urea hydrolysis, likely providing a reduced source of nitrogen to the host kelp. The genome of the most abundant member of the kelp microbiome and common macroalgal symbiont, Granulosicoccus, contained a full suite of genes for synthesizing cobalamin (vitamin B12), suggesting that kelp-associated bacteria have the potential to provide their host kelp with vitamins. Finally, kelp-associated Granulosicoccus contained genes that typify the aerobic anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria, including genes for bacteriochlorophyll synthesis and photosystem II reaction center proteins, making them the first known photoheterotrophic representatives of this genus. IMPORTANCE Kelp (brown algae in the order Laminariales) are foundational species that create essential habitat in temperate and arctic coastal marine ecosystems. These photosynthetic giants host millions of microbial taxa whose functions are relatively unknown, despite their potential importance for host-microbe interactions and nutrient cycling in kelp forest ecosystems. We reconstructed bacterial genomes from metagenomic samples collected from blades of the bull kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana, allowing us to determine the functional gene content of specific members of the kelp microbiome. These bacterial genomes spanned 6 phyla and 19 families and included common alga-associated microbial symbionts such as Granulosicoccus. Key functions encoded in kelp-associated bacterial genomes included dissolved organic matter assimilation, alginate metabolism, vitamin B12 biosynthesis, and nitrogen reduction from nitrate and urea to ammonium, potentially providing the host kelp with vitamins and reduced nitrogen.

Keywords: Granulosicoccus; alginate; dissolved organic matter; host-microbe; kelp; metagenome-assembled genomes; metagenomics; microbiome; nitrogen cycling; vitamin B12.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria
  • Dissolved Organic Matter
  • Humans
  • Kelp* / genetics
  • Metagenome / genetics
  • Microbiota* / genetics
  • Nitrates / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Vitamins / metabolism


  • Dissolved Organic Matter
  • Nitrates
  • Vitamins