The Breadwinner Hypothesis: A thermophilic chemolithoautotrophic bacterial consortium suggests a mutual relationship between bacteria in extreme oligotrophic environments

by Yuri Pinheiro, Fabio Mota, Raquel Peixoto, Jan Dirk van Elsas, Ulysses Lins, Jorge Mazza Rodrigues, Alexandre S. Rosado
Scientific paper Year: 2023 DOI: 10.1038/s42003-023-04617-4

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Communications Biology


A thermophilic, chemolithoautotrophic, and aerobic microbial consortium (termed carbonitroflex) growing in a nutrient-poor medium and an atmosphere containing N2, O2, CO2, and CO is investigated as a model to expand our understanding of extreme biological systems. Here we show that the consortium is dominated by Carbonactinospora thermoautotrophica (strain StC), followed by Sphaerobacter thermophilusChelatococcus spp., and Geobacillus spp. Metagenomic analysis of the consortium reveals a mutual relationship among bacteria, with C. thermoautotrophica StC exhibiting carboxydotrophy and carbon-dioxide storage capacity. C. thermoautotrophica StC, Chelatococcus spp., and S. thermophilus harbor genes encoding CO dehydrogenase and formate oxidase. No pure cultures were obtained under the original growth conditions, indicating that a tightly regulated interactive metabolism might be required for group survival and growth in this extreme oligotrophic system. The breadwinner hypothesis is proposed to explain the metabolic flux model and highlight the vital role of C. thermoautotrophica StC (the sole keystone species and primary carbon producer) in the survival of all consortium members. Our data may contribute to the investigation of complex interactions in extreme environments, exemplifying the interconnections and dependency within microbial communities.