Thesis Seminar

Monday August 16, 2010 1:00 PM

Hydrogenases and Hydrogen Sensors in the Symbiotic Microbial Communities of Wood-feeding Termites

Location: Annenberg 105
The termite gut is an ideal ecosystem for studying hydrogen ecophysiology. Hydrogen is central to the obligate mutualism between termites and their gut microbes and is turned over at rates as high as 33 m3/m3 gut volume per day and maintained near saturation in some species. Acetogenic bacteria use hydrogen to produce up to 1/3 of the total flux of the termite’s primary carbon and energy source, acetate. We have taken a three-fold approach to investigate the hydrogen ecophysiology of the termite gut. In our first approach we completed a bioinformatic analysis of [FeFe] hydrogenase-like (H domain) proteins encoded in the genomes of three termite gut treponemes. Treponemes are among the most highly represented groups of gut bacteria. The remarkable diversity of H domain proteins encoded accentuates the importance of hydrogen to their physiology. Moreover, they encoded a poorly understood class hydrogen sensing H domain proteins and, thereby, present a unique opportunity for their further study. In our second approach we analyzed molecular inventories prepared from termite gut microbiomes of a class of [FeFe] hydrogenases found highly represented in a termite hindgut metagenome. The libraries of peptide sequences clustered with one another in a manner congruent with termite host phylogeny suggesting coevolution. Interestingly, we observed that higher termite guts harbor higher sequence diversity than lower termites. In our third approach we used microfluidic digital PCR to identify bacteria in the gut of Reticulitermes tibialis JT2 encoding [FeFe] hydrogenases. The majority of the 16S rRNA gene phylotypes observed to co-amplify with hydrogenase sequences were treponemal, and the only observed instances of the same 16S rRNA-hydrogenase gene pair co-amplifying in multiple microfluidic chambers corresponded to treponemal phylotypes. Therefore, treponemes may be an important or predominant bacterial group encoding an important family of [FeFe] hydrogenases in the termite gut. The above results provide support for an important role for treponemes in mediating hydrogen metabolism in the termite gut and accentuate the intimacy and stability of the association termites have maintained over the course of their evolution with their gut microbial communities.

Contact: cecilia gamboa at 4400 cgamboa@caltech.edu