Keystone species: Which are the most important functional genes in an ecosystem?
EurekaAlert reports that microbial ecosystems such as biological wastewater treatment plants and the human gastrointestinal tract are home to a vast diversity of bacterial species. Scientists of the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) and the Life Science Research Unit (LSRU) of the University of Luxembourg, in collaboration with US researchers, have now succeeded for the first time in determining key functional genes and the organisms encoding these in such ecological systems, working from extensive data of bacterial genetics and bacterial metabolism.
Keystone species are species that play central roles in the functioning of ecosystems. These are typically not the most abundant species but far more important are organisms carry copies of distinct, essential genes - researchers here speak of "keystone genes" - which are also transcribed disproportionately often. The insights from the group of FNR-ATTRACT fellow Prof. Paul Wilmes are also of medical importance: When microbial communities come out of balance in the course of disease, a positive health effect may be achieved by supporting keystone bacterial species in a targeted fashion. The study was published in the new journal of the Nature Publishing Group, npj Biofilms and Microbiomes.