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Weiss, Anna S.; Niedermeier, Lisa S.; Strempel, Alexandra von; Burrichter, Anna G.; Ring, Diana; Meng, Chen; Kleigrewe, Karin; Lincetto, Chiara; Hübner, Johannes; Stecher, Bärbel (2023): Nutritional and host environments determine community ecology and keystone species in a synthetic gut bacterial community. Nature Communications, 14 (1). ISSN 2041-1723

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A challenging task to understand health and disease-related microbiome signatures is to move beyond descriptive community-level profiling towards disentangling microbial interaction networks. Using a synthetic gut bacterial community, we aimed to study the role of individual members in community assembly, identify putative keystone species and test their influence across different environments. Single-species dropout experiments reveal that bacterial strain relationships strongly vary not only in different regions of the murine gut, but also across several standard culture media. Mechanisms involved in environment-dependent keystone functions in vitro include exclusive access to polysaccharides as well as bacteriocin production. Further, Bacteroides caecimuris and Blautia coccoides are found to play keystone roles in gnotobiotic mice by impacting community composition, the metabolic landscape and inflammatory responses. In summary, the presented study highlights the strong interdependency between bacterial community ecology and the biotic and abiotic environment. These results question the concept of universally valid keystone species in the gastrointestinal ecosystem and underline the context-dependency of both, keystone functions and bacterial interaction networks.

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