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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Long-read metagenomics of soil communities reveals phylum-specific secondary metabolite dynamics


Microbial biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs) encoding secondary metabolites are thought to impact a plethora of biologically mediated environmental processes, yet their discovery and functional characterization in natural microbiomes remains challenging. Here we describe deep long-read sequencing and assembly of metagenomes from biological soil crusts, a group of soil communities that are rich in BGCs. Taking advantage of the unusually long assemblies produced by this approach, we recovered nearly 3,000 BGCs for analysis, including 695 novel, full-length BGCs. Functional exploration through metatranscriptome analysis of a 3-day wetting experiment uncovered phylum-specific BGC expression upon activation from dormancy, elucidating distinct roles and complex phylogenetic and temporal dynamics in wetting processes. For example, a pronounced increase in BGC transcription occurs at night in cyanobacteria but not in other phyla, implicating BGCs in nutrient scavenging roles and niche competition. Taken together, our results demonstrate that long-read metagenomic sequencing combined with metatranscriptomic analysis provides a direct view into the functional dynamics of BGCs in environmental processes and suggests a central role of secondary metabolites in maintaining phylogenetically conserved niches within biocrusts.

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