Metagenomic Analysis of the Gut Microbiome of the Common Black Slug Arion ater in Search of Novel Lignocellulose Degrading Enzymes

Ryan Joynson, Leighton Pritchard, Ekenakema Osemwekha, Natalie Ferry (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Some eukaryotes are able to gain access to well-protected carbon sources in plant biomass by exploiting microorganisms in the environment or harbored in their digestive system. One is the land pulmonate Arion ater, which takes advantage of a gut microbial consortium that can break down the widely available, but difficult to digest, carbohydrate polymers in lignocellulose, enabling them to digest a broad range of fresh and partially degraded plant material efficiently. This ability is considered one of the major factors that have enabled A. ater to become one of the most widespread plant pest species in Western Europe and North America. Using metagenomic techniques we have characterized the bacterial diversity and functional capability of the gut microbiome of this notorious agricultural pest. Analysis of gut metagenomic community sequences identified abundant populations of known lignocellulose-degrading bacteria, along with well-characterized bacterial plant pathogens. This also revealed a repertoire of more than 3,383 carbohydrate active enzymes (CAZymes) including multiple enzymes associated with lignin degradation, demonstrating a microbial consortium capable of degradation of all components of lignocellulose. This would allow A. ater to make extensive use of plant biomass as a source of nutrients through exploitation of the enzymatic capabilities of the gut microbial consortia. From this metagenome assembly we also demonstrate the successful amplification of multiple predicted gene sequences from metagenomic DNA subjected to whole genome amplification and expression of functional proteins, facilitating the low cost acquisition and biochemical testing of the many thousands of novel genes identified in metagenomics studies. These findings demonstrate the importance of studying Gastropod microbial communities. Firstly, with respect to understanding links between feeding and evolutionary success and, secondly, as sources of novel enzymes with biotechnological potential, such as, CAZYmes that could be used in the production of biofuel.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2181
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2017


  • CAZymes
  • lignocellulose
  • Arion ater
  • biofuel
  • shotgun metagenomics
  • whole genome amplification
  • cellulase


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