From proteins to polysaccharides: lifestyle and genetic evolution of Coprothermobacter proteolyticus.


Faculty of Chemistry, Biotechnology and Food Science, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, 1432, Norway. [Email]


Microbial communities that degrade lignocellulosic biomass are typified by high levels of species- and strain-level complexity, as well as synergistic interactions between both cellulolytic and non-cellulolytic microorganisms. Coprothermobacter proteolyticus frequently dominates thermophilic, lignocellulose-degrading communities with wide geographical distribution, which is in contrast to reports that it ferments proteinaceous substrates and is incapable of polysaccharide hydrolysis. Here we deconvolute a highly efficient cellulose-degrading consortium (SEM1b) that is co-dominated by Clostridium (Ruminiclostridium) thermocellum and multiple heterogenic strains affiliated to C. proteolyticus. Metagenomic analysis of SEM1b recovered metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) for each constituent population, whereas in parallel two novel strains of C. proteolyticus were successfully isolated and sequenced. Annotation of all C. proteolyticus genotypes (two strains and one MAG) revealed their genetic acquisition of carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZymes), presumably derived from horizontal gene transfer (HGT) events involving polysaccharide-degrading Firmicutes or Thermotogae-affiliated populations that are historically co-located. HGT material included a saccharolytic operon, from which a CAZyme was biochemically characterized and demonstrated hydrolysis of multiple hemicellulose polysaccharides. Finally, temporal genome-resolved metatranscriptomic analysis of SEM1b revealed expression of C. proteolyticus CAZymes at different SEM1b life stages as well as co-expression of CAZymes from multiple SEM1b populations, inferring deeper microbial interactions that are dedicated toward community degradation of cellulose and hemicellulose. We show that C. proteolyticus, a ubiquitous population, consists of closely related strains that have adapted via HGT to presumably degrade both oligo- and longer polysaccharides present in decaying plants and microbial cell walls, thus explaining its dominance in thermophilic anaerobic digesters on a global scale.