Ingestion of the cycad toxins β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) and azoxyglycosides is harmful to diverse organisms. However, some insects are specialized to feed on toxin-rich cycads with apparent immunity. Some cycad-feeding insects possess a common set of gut bacteria, which might play a role in detoxifying cycad toxins. Here, we investigated the composition of gut microbiota from a worldwide sample of cycadivorous insects and characterized the biosynthetic potential of selected bacteria. Cycadivorous insects shared a core gut microbiome consisting of six bacterial taxa, mainly belonging to the Proteobacteria, which we were able to isolate. To further investigate selected taxa from diverging lineages, we performed shotgun metagenomic sequencing of cocultured bacterial sub-communities. We characterized the biosynthetic potential of four bacteria from Serratia, Pantoea, and two different Stenotrophomonas lineages, and discovered a suite of biosynthetic gene clusters notably rich in siderophores. Siderophore semi-untargeted metabolomics revealed a broad range of chemically related yet diverse iron-chelating metabolites, including desferrioxamine B, suggesting the occurrence of an unprecedented desferrioxamine-like biosynthetic pathway that remains to be identified. These results provide a foundation for future investigations into how cycadivorous insects tolerate diets rich in azoxyglycosides, BMAA, and other cycad toxins, including a possible role for bacterial siderophores.

Oxford University Press (OUP)
ISME Communications

Released under the CC-BY 4.0 ("Attribution 4.0 International") License

Staff publications

Gutiérrez-García, Karina, Whitaker, Melissa R. L., Bustos-Díaz, Edder D., Salzman, Shayla, Ramos-Aboites, Hilda E., Reitz, Zachary L., … Barona-Gómez, Francisco. (2023). Gut microbiomes of cycad-feeding insects tolerant to β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) are rich in siderophore biosynthesis. ISME Communications, 3(1). doi:10.1038/s43705-023-00323-8