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Title: Strain-Level Diversity Impacts Cheese Rind Microbiome Assembly and Function
ABSTRACT Diversification can generate genomic and phenotypic strain-level diversity within microbial species. This microdiversity is widely recognized in populations, but the community-level consequences of microbial strain-level diversity are poorly characterized. Using the cheese rind model system, we tested whether strain diversity across microbiomes from distinct geographic regions impacts assembly dynamics and functional outputs. We first isolated the same three bacterial species ( Staphylococcus equorum , Brevibacterium auranticum , and Brachybacterium alimentarium ) from nine cheeses produced in different regions of the United States and Europe to construct nine synthetic microbial communities consisting of distinct strains of the same three bacterial species. Comparative genomics identified distinct phylogenetic clusters and significant variation in genome content across the nine synthetic communities. When we assembled each synthetic community with initially identical compositions, community structure diverged over time, resulting in communities with different dominant taxa. The taxonomically identical communities showed differing responses to abiotic (high salt) and biotic (the fungus Penicillium ) perturbations, with some communities showing no response and others substantially shifting in composition. Functional differences were also observed across the nine communities, with significant variation in pigment production (light yellow to orange) and in composition of volatile organic compound profiles emitted from the more » rinds (nutty to sulfury). IMPORTANCE Our work demonstrated that the specific microbial strains used to construct a microbiome could impact the species composition, perturbation responses, and functional outputs of that system. These findings suggest that 16S rRNA gene taxonomic profiles alone may have limited potential to predict the dynamics of microbial communities because they usually do not capture strain-level diversity. Observations from our synthetic communities also suggest that strain-level diversity has the potential to drive variability in the aesthetics and quality of surface-ripened cheeses. « less
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