Bifidobacterium castoris strains isolated from wild mice show evidence of frequent host switching and diverse carbohydrate metabolism potential

Magdalena Kujawska, Aura Raulo, Molly Millar, Fred Warren, Laima Baltrūnaitė, Sarah C. L. Knowles, Lindsay J. Hall

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Members of the gut microbiota genus Bifidobacterium are widely distributed human and animal symbionts believed to exert beneficial effects on their hosts. However, in-depth genomic analyses of animal-associated species and strains are somewhat lacking, particularly in wild animal populations. Here, to examine patterns of host specificity and carbohydrate metabolism capacity, we sequenced whole genomes of Bifidobacterium isolated from wild-caught small mammals from two European countries (UK and Lithuania). Members of Bifidobacterium castoris, Bifidobacterium animalis and Bifodobacterium pseudolongum were detected in wild mice (Apodemus sylvaticus, Apodemus agrarius and Apodemus flavicollis), but not voles or shrews. B. castoris constituted the most commonly recovered Bifidobacterium (78% of all isolates), with the majority of strains only detected in a single population, although populations frequently harboured multiple co-circulating strains. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that the mouse-associated B. castoris clades were not specific to a particular location or host species, and their distribution across the host phylogeny was consistent with regular host shifts rather than host-microbe codiversification. Functional analysis, including in vitro growth assays, suggested that mouse-derived B. castoris strains encoded an extensive arsenal of carbohydrate-active enzymes, including putative novel glycosyl hydrolases such as chitosanases, along with genes encoding putative exopolysaccharides, some of which may have been acquired via horizontal gene transfer. Overall, these results provide a rare genome-level analysis of host specificity and genomic capacity among important gut symbionts of wild animals, and reveal that Bifidobacterium has a labile relationship with its host over evolutionary time scales.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20
JournalISME Communications
Early online date25 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

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