Behind Taxonomic Variability: The Functional Redundancy in the Tick Microbiome

TitleBehind Taxonomic Variability: The Functional Redundancy in the Tick Microbiome
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsEstrada-Pena A, Cabezas-Cruz A, Obregon D
Start Page1829
Date Published11/2020

The taxonomic composition and diversity of tick midgut microbiota have been extensively studied in different species of the genera Rhipicephalus, Ixodes, Amblyomma, Haemaphysalis, Hyalomma, Dermacentor, Argas and Ornithodoros, while the functional significance of bacterial diversity has been proportionally less explored. In this study, we used previously published 16S amplicon sequence data sets from three Ixodes scapularis cohorts, two of uninfected nymphs, and one of larvae experimentally infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, to test the functional redundancy of the tick microbiome. We predicted the metabolic profiling of each sample using the state-of-the-art metagenomics tool PICRUSt2. The results showed that the microbiomes of all I. scapularis samples share only 80 taxa (24.6%, total 324), while out of the 342 metabolic pathways predicted, 82.7%, were shared by all the ticks. Borrelia-infected larvae lack 15.4% of pathways found in the microbiome of uninfected nymphs. Taxa contribution analysis showed that the functional microbiome of uninfected ticks was highly redundant, with, in some cases, up to 198 bacterial taxa contributing to a single pathway. However, Borrelia-infected larvae had a smaller redundancy with 6.7% of pathways provided by more than 100 genera, while 15.7-19.2% of pathways were provided by more than 100 genera in the two cohorts of uninfected ticks. In addition, we compared the functional profiles of three microbial communities from each data set, identified through a network-based approach, and we observed functional similarity between them. Based on the functional redundancy and functional similarity of the microbiome of ticks in different developmental stages and infection status, we concluded that the tick gut microbiota is a self-regulating community of very diverse bacteria contributing to a defined set of metabolic pathways and functions with yet unexplored relevance for tick fitness and/or bacterial community stability. We propose a change of focus in which the tick microbiome must be analyzed in all dimensions, highlighting their functional traits, instead of the conventional taxonomic profiling.