The quest to manipulate microbiomes has intensified, but many microbial communities have proven to be recalcitrant to sustained change. Developing model communities amenable to genetic dissection will underpin successful strategies for shaping microbiomes by advancing an understanding of community interactions. We developed a model community with representatives from three dominant rhizosphere taxa, the Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, and Bacteroidetes. We chose Bacillus cereus as a model rhizosphere firmicute and characterized 20 other candidates, including “hitchhikers” that coisolated with B. cereus from the rhizosphere. Pairwise analysis produced a hierarchical interstrain-competition network. We chose two hitchhikers, Pseudomonas koreensis from the top tier of the competition network and Flavobacterium johnsoniae from the bottom of the network, to represent the Proteobacteria and Bacteroidetes, respectively. The model community has several emergent properties, induction of dendritic expansion of B. cereus colonies by either of the other members, and production of more robust biofilms by the three members together than individually. Moreover, P. koreensis produces a novel family of alkaloid antibiotics that inhibit growth of F. johnsoniae, and production is inhibited by B. cereus. We designate this community THOR, because the members are the hitchhikers of the rhizosphere. The genetic, genomic, and biochemical tools available for dissection of THOR provide the means to achieve a new level of understanding of microbial community behavior.
Lozano, G. L., Bravo, J. I., Garavito Diago, M. F., Park, H. B., Hurley, A., Peterson, S. B., … Handelsman, J. (2019). Introducing THOR, a model microbiome for genetic dissection of community behavior. MBio, 10(2). https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.02846-18