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OPINION

The social network of microorganisms — how auxotrophies shape complex communities

Abstract

Microorganisms engage in complex interactions with other organisms and their environment. Recent studies have shown that these interactions are not limited to the exchange of electron donors. Most microorganisms are auxotrophs, thus relying on external nutrients for growth, including the exchange of amino acids and vitamins. Currently, we lack a deeper understanding of auxotrophies in microorganisms and how nutrient requirements differ between different strains and different environments. In this Opinion article, we describe how the study of auxotrophies and nutrient requirements among members of complex communities will enable new insights into community composition and assembly. Understanding this complex network over space and time is crucial for developing strategies to interrogate and shape microbial communities.

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Fig. 1: Nutrient cycling in microbial communities.
Fig. 2: Dynamic of interactions.
Fig. 3: Microbial community perturbation and resilience.

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Acknowledgements

Research in the authors’ laboratory was supported in part by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under award number AR071731. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. Work in the authors’ laboratory was also supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 1332344 and the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological & Environmental Research Awards DE-SC0012586, DE-SC0012658 and DE-SC0018344.

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Nature Reviews Microbiology thanks Felix Sommer, Jan Roelof van der Meer and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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K.Z. and L.S.Z. researched data for the article, made substantial contributions to discussions of the content, wrote the article and reviewed and edited the manuscript before submission.

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Correspondence to Karsten Zengler.

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Zengler, K., Zaramela, L.S. The social network of microorganisms — how auxotrophies shape complex communities. Nat Rev Microbiol 16, 383–390 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-018-0004-5

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