Substrate use prioritization by a coculture of five species of gut bacteria fed mixtures of arabinoxylan, xyloglucan, β-glucan, and pectin

© 2020 American Society for Microbiology. Dietary fiber provides growth substrates for bacterial species that belong to the colonic microbiota of humans. The microbiota degrades and ferments substrates, producing characteristic short-chain fatty acid profiles. Dietary fiber contains plant cell wall-associated polysaccharides (hemicelluloses and pectins) that are chemically diverse in composition and structure. Thus, depending on plant sources, dietary fiber daily presents the microbiota with mixtures of plant polysaccharides of various types and complexity. We studied the extent and preferential order in which mixtures of plant polysaccharides (arabinoxylan, xyloglucan, β-glucan, and pectin) were utilized by a coculture of five bacterial species (Bacteroides ovatus, Bifidobacterium longum subspecies longum, Megasphaera elsdenii, Ruminococcus gnavus, and Veillonella parvula). These species are members of the human gut microbiota and have the biochemical capacity, collectively, to degrade and ferment the polysaccharides and produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). B. ovatus utilized glycans in the order β-glucan, pectin, xyloglucan, and arabinoxylan, whereas B. longum subsp. longum utilization was in the order arabinoxylan, arabinan, pectin, and β-glucan. Propionate, as a proportion of total SCFAs, was augmented when polysaccharide mixtures contained galactan, resulting in greater succinate production by B. ovatus and conversion of succinate to propionate by V. parvula. Overall, we derived a synthetic ecological community that carries out SCFA production by the common pathways used by bacterial species for this purpose. Systems like this might be used to predict changes to the emergent properties of the gut ecosystem when diet is altered, with the aim of beneficially affecting human physiology. This study addresses the question as to how bacterial species, characteristic of the human gut microbiota, collectively utilize mixtures of plant polysaccharides such as are found in dietary fiber. Five bacterial species with the capacity to degrade polymers and/or produce acidic fermentation products detectable in human feces were used in the experiments. The bacteria showed preferential use of certain polysaccharides over others for growth, and this influenced their fermentation output qualitatively. These kinds of studies are essential in developing concepts of how the gut microbial community shares habitat resources, directly and indirectly, when presented with mixtures of polysaccharides that are found in human diets. The concepts are required in planning dietary interventions that might correct imbalances in the functioning of the human microbiota so as to support measures to reduce metabolic conditions such as obesity.