TitleBend or break: how biochemically versatile molecules enable metabolic division of labor in clonal microbial communities.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsVarahan S, Laxman S
Date Published2021 Oct 02

In fluctuating nutrient environments, isogenic microbial cells transition into "multicellular" communities composed of phenotypically heterogeneous cells, showing functional specialization. In fungi (such as budding yeast), phenotypic heterogeneity is often described in the context of cells switching between different morphotypes (e.g., yeast to hyphae/pseudohyphae or white/opaque transitions in Candida albicans). However, more fundamental forms of metabolic heterogeneity are seen in clonal Saccharomyces cerevisiae communities growing in nutrient-limited conditions. Cells within such communities exhibit contrasting, specialized metabolic states, and are arranged in distinct, spatially organized groups. In this study, we explain how such an organization can stem from self-organizing biochemical reactions that depend on special metabolites. These metabolites exhibit plasticity in function, wherein the same metabolites are metabolized and utilized for distinct purposes by different cells. This in turn allows cell groups to function as specialized, interdependent cross-feeding systems which support distinct metabolic processes. Exemplifying a system where cells exhibit either gluconeogenic or glycolytic states, we highlight how available metabolites can drive favored biochemical pathways to produce new, limiting resources. These new resources can themselves be consumed or utilized distinctly by cells in different metabolic states. This thereby enables cell groups to sustain contrasting, even apparently impossible metabolic states with stable transcriptional and metabolic signatures for a given environment, and divide labor in order to increase community fitness or survival. We speculate on possible evolutionary implications of such metabolic specialization and division of labor in isogenic microbial communities.

Alternate JournalGenetics
PubMed ID34849891
PubMed Central IDPMC8633146
Grant ListIA/E/16/1/502996 / / DBT-Wellcome Trust India Alliance Early Career Fellowship /
IA/I/14/2/501523 / / DBT-Wellcome Trust India Alliance Intermediate Fellowship /
/ / Department of Biotechnology /