Coordinated transformation of the gut microbiome and lipidome of bowhead whales provides novel insights into digestion
Miller, Carolyn A.
Holm, Henry C.
George, John C.
Fredricks, Helen F.
Van Mooy, Benjamin A. S.
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Whale digestion plays an integral role in many ocean ecosystems. By digesting enormous quantities of lipid-rich prey, whales support their energy intensive lifestyle, but also excrete nutrients important to ocean biogeochemical cycles. Nevertheless, whale digestion is poorly understood. Gastrointestinal microorganisms play a significant role in vertebrate digestion, but few studies have examined them in whales. To investigate digestion of lipids, and the potential contribution of microbes to lipid digestion in whales, we characterized lipid composition (lipidomes) and bacterial communities (microbiotas) in 126 digesta samples collected throughout the gastrointestinal tracts of 38 bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) harvested by Alaskan Eskimos. Lipidomes and microbiotas were strongly correlated throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Lipidomes and microbiotas were most variable in the small intestine and most similar in the large intestine, where microbiota richness was greatest. Our results suggest digestion of wax esters, the primary lipids in B. mysticetus prey representing more than 80% of total dietary lipids, occurred in the mid- to distal small intestine and was correlated with specific microorganisms. Because wax esters are difficult to digest by other marine vertebrates and constitute a large reservoir of carbon in the ocean, our results further elucidate the essential roles that whales and their gastrointestinal microbiotas play in the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients in high-latitude seas.
© The Author(s), 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Miller, C. A., Holm, H. C., Horstmann, L., George, J. C., Fredricks, H. F., Van Mooy, B. A. S., & Apprill, A. Coordinated transformation of the gut microbiome and lipidome of bowhead whales provides novel insights into digestion. ISME Journal, 14, (2019): 688-701, doi: 10.1038/s41396-019-0549-y.
Suggested CitationMiller, C. A., Holm, H. C., Horstmann, L., George, J. C., Fredricks, H. F., Van Mooy, B. A. S., & Apprill, A. (2019). Coordinated transformation of the gut microbiome and lipidome of bowhead whales provides novel insights into digestion. ISME Journal, 14, 688-701.
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