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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model for Microbiome Research.

  • Author(s): Zhang, Fan
  • Berg, Maureen
  • Dierking, Katja
  • Félix, Marie-Anne
  • Shapira, Michael
  • Samuel, Buck S
  • Schulenburg, Hinrich
  • et al.

The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is used as a central model system across biological disciplines. Surprisingly, almost all research with this worm is performed in the absence of its native microbiome, possibly affecting generality of the obtained results. In fact, the C. elegans microbiome had been unknown until recently. This review brings together results from the first three studies on C. elegans microbiomes, all published in 2016. Meta-analysis of the data demonstrates a considerable conservation in the composition of the microbial communities, despite the distinct geographical sample origins, study approaches, labs involved and perturbations during worm processing. The C. elegans microbiome is enriched and in some cases selective for distinct phylotypes compared to corresponding substrate samples (e.g., rotting fruits, decomposing plant matter, and compost soil). The dominant bacterial groups include several Gammaproteobacteria (Enterobacteriaceae, Pseudomonaceae, and Xanthomonodaceae) and Bacteroidetes (Sphingobacteriaceae, Weeksellaceae, Flavobacteriaceae). They are consistently joined by several rare putative keystone taxa like Acetobacteriaceae. The bacteria are able to enhance growth of nematode populations, as well as resistance to biotic and abiotic stressors, including high/low temperatures, osmotic stress, and pathogenic bacteria and fungi. The associated microbes thus appear to display a variety of effects beneficial for the worm. The characteristics of these effects, their relevance for C. elegans fitness, the presence of specific co-adaptations between microbiome members and the worm, and the molecular underpinnings of microbiome-host interactions represent promising areas of future research, for which the advantages of C. elegans as an experimental system should prove of particular value.

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