(35d) Elucidation of Trophic Interactions in an Unusual Single Cell Nitrogen-Fixing Symbiosis Using Metabolic Modeling (Industry Candidate)
AIChE Annual Meeting
2020 Virtual AIChE Annual Meeting
Food, Pharmaceutical & Bioengineering Division
Systems and Quantitative Biology of Microbes
Monday, November 16, 2020 - 8:45am to 9:00am
Marine nitrogen-fixing microorganisms are an important source of fixed nitrogen in oceanic ecosystems. The colonial cyanobacterium Trichodesmium and diatom symbionts were thought to be the primary contributors to oceanic N2 fixation until the discovery of the unusual uncultivated symbiotic cyanobacterium UCYN-A (Candidatus Atelocyanobacterium thalassa). UCYN-A has atypical metabolic characteristics lacking the oxygen-evolving photosystem II, the tricarboxylic acid cycle, the carbon-fixation enzyme RuBisCo, and de novo biosynthetic pathways for a number of amino acids and nucleotides. Therefore, it is obligately symbiotic with its single-celled haptophyte algal host. UCYN-A receives fixed carbon from its host and returns fixed nitrogen, though the exact identities of the exchanged metabolites and extent of metabolic flows are unknown. In order to investigate how this syntrophy is coordinated, we reconstructed bottom-up genome-scale metabolic models of UCYN-A and its algal partner to explore possible trophic scenarios associated with nitrogen fixation and biomass synthesis. Since both partners are uncultivated and only the genome sequence of UCYN-A is available, we used the phylogenetically related Chrysochromulina tobin as a proxy for the host. Through the use of flux balance analysis, we determined the minimal set of metabolites and biochemical functions that must be shared between the two organisms to ensure growth and activity. We quantitatively investigated the metabolic characteristics that facilitate daytime N2 fixation in UCYN-A and possible oxygen-scavenging mechanisms needed to create an anaerobic environment to allow nitrogenase to function. This is the first application of a flux balance analysis framework to examine the tight metabolic coupling between single-celled microbes in marine symbiotic communities. Experimental investigations into this system have so far remained elusive due to difficulties in culturing UCYN-A and/or its host. This has rendered computational studies on metabolic models an exciting route for deciphering possible trophic scenarios.