Mono-specific algal diets shape microbial networking in the gut of the sea urchin Tripneustes gratilla elatensis

Matan Masasa, Ariel Kushmaro, Esti Kramarsky-Winter, Muki Shpigel, Roy Barkan, Alex Golberg, Abraham Kribus, Nadav Shashar, Lior Guttman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Algivorous sea urchins can obtain energy from a diet of a single algal species, which may result in consequent changes in their gut microbe assemblies and association networks. Methods: To ascertain whether such changes are led by specific microbes or limited to a specific region in the gut, we compared the microbial assembly in the three major gut regions of the sea urchin Tripneustes gratilla elatensis when fed a mono-specific algal diet of either Ulva fasciata or Gracilaria conferta, or an algal-free diet. DNA extracts from 5 to 7 individuals from each diet treatment were used for Illumina MiSeq based 16S rRNA gene sequencing (V3–V4 region). Niche breadth of each microbe in the assembly was calculated for identification of core, generalist, specialist, or unique microbes. Network analyzers were used to measure the connectivity of the entire assembly and of each of the microbes within it and whether it altered with a given diet or gut region. Lastly, the predicted metabolic functions of key microbes in the gut were analyzed to evaluate their potential contribution to decomposition of dietary algal polysaccharides. Results: Sea urchins fed with U. fasciata grew faster and their gut microbiome network was rich in bacterial associations (edges) and networking clusters. Bacteroidetes was the keystone microbe phylum in the gut, with core, generalist, and specialist representatives. A few microbes of this phylum were central hub nodes that maintained community connectivity, while others were driver microbes that led the rewiring of the assembly network based on diet type through changes in their associations and centrality. Niche breadth agreed with microbes' richness in genes for carbohydrate active enzymes and correlated Bacteroidetes specialists to decomposition of specific polysaccharides in the algal diets. Conclusions: The dense and well-connected microbial network in the gut of Ulva-fed sea urchins, together with animal's rapid growth, may suggest that this alga was most nutritious among the experimental diets. Our findings expand the knowledge on the gut microbial assembly in T. gratilla elatensis and strengthen the correlation between microbes’ generalism or specialism in terms of occurrence in different niches and their metabolic arsenal which may aid host nutrition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number79
JournalAnimal Microbiome
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


FundersFunder number
The Jewish Charitable Association
Ministry of Energy, Israel215-11-032


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