Community functionality linked to species diversity
We study Zambian fermented product, mabisi, as a model system to explore mechanisms driving community stability and functionality.
There is a tremendous variation among natural ecosystems in the diversity of species and their interactions, which are thought to define ecosystem stability and functionality. Ecological theory predicts that the stability of an ecosystem relies on balanced interspecies interactions and how these species interact with the environment.
In contrast to most other natural ecosystems, mabisi (traditional fermented milk product from Zambia) harbours a relatively simple microbial community of six to eight most abundant species of bacteria and yeasts. Such a low taxonomic diversity allows us to experimentally test whether species composition, type of interspecies interactions, environmental conditions, and degree of long-term co-existence define stability of the community (Figure 1). We intend to link the functionality of individual species to ecosystem stability and build a model of the microbial community interactions. Our work will also allow us to design stable starter cultures for safe and sustainable production of Mabisi and other traditional fermented milk products.
We characterised mabisi community using meta-omic data and determined the key species (Figure 2). Mabisi community is maintained by lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria, yeasts and viruses, most of which are bacteriophages. In our experiments we discovered that long-term propagation of mabisi in the laboratory can shift microbial community composition in several directions while we observe functional convergence in those communities. We are currently looking further into specific roles of key microbes in mabisi community in the overall ecosystem stability and functionality. We are incorporating our findings into a mathematical model of mabisi. This model would help us to investigate the role of environment (milk type) in the stability of mabisi community over a series of propagations.
In collaboration with Food Microbiology group, WUR we also tested mabisi microbiota as a factor influencing gut microbial community in a Simulator of Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem (SHIME®) model system (Figure 3). We found that even short-term exposure of mabisi to human gut microbiota shifts microbial community of the gut towards healthier composition and diversity. This shift is similar to the one caused by a common prebiotic (fructooligosascharides).
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