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16S rRNA metagenomic analysis of the symbiotic community structures of bacteria in foregut, midgut, and hindgut of the wood-feeding termite Bulbitermes sp.


The termite gut is a highly structured microhabitat with physicochemically distinct regions. It is generally separated into the foregut, midgut and hindgut. The distribution of gut microbiota is greatly influenced by varying physicochemical conditions within the gut. Thus, each gut compartment has a unique microbial population structure. In this study, the bacterial communities of foregut, midgut and hindgut of wood-feeding higher termite, Bulbitermes sp. were analyzed in detail via metagenomic sequencing of the 16S rRNA V3-V4 region. While the microbiomes of the foregut and midgut shared a similar taxonomic pattern, the hindgut possessed more diverse bacterial phylotypes. The communities in the foregut and midgut were dominated by members of the group Bacilli and Clostridia (Firmicutes) as well as taxon Actinomycetales (Actinobacteria). The main bacterial lineage found in hindgut was Spirochaetaceae (Spirochaetes). The significant difference among the three guts was the relative abundance of the potential lignin-degrading bacteria, Actinomycetales, in both the foregut and midgut. This suggests that lignin modification was probably held in the anterior part of termite gut. Predictive functional profiles of the metagenomes using 16S rRNA marker gene showed that cell motility, energy metabolism and metabolism of cofactors and vitamins were found predominantly in hindgut microbiota, whereas xenobiotics degradation and metabolism mostly occurred in the foregut segment. This was compatible with our 16S rRNA metagenomic results showing that the lignocellulose degradation process was initiated by lignin disruption, increasing the accessibility of celluloses and hemicelluloses.

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The authors would like to thank Maricel Cuevas David from UniversitiTun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM), for the identification of the termite’s genus. This work was financed by Research University Grant (Q.J130000.2545.07H38) Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Malaysia.

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Y.M.C. collected samples, extracted metagenome, analyses results and wrote the paper, S.F.L. performed bioinformatic analyses, M.M.S. and A.Y. designed the study and discussed the results.

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Correspondence to Adibah Yahya.

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Chew, Y.M., Lye, S., Md. Salleh, M. et al. 16S rRNA metagenomic analysis of the symbiotic community structures of bacteria in foregut, midgut, and hindgut of the wood-feeding termite Bulbitermes sp.. Symbiosis 76, 187–197 (2018).

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  • Symbiosis
  • Bulbitermes sp.
  • Foregut
  • Midgut
  • Hindgut
  • 16S rRNA metagenomics