Microbiol Spectr. 2022 Nov 15:e0225522. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.02255-22. Online ahead of print.
The major aquatic interface between host and environment in teleost finfish species is the gill. The diversity of this infraclass, high complexity of the organ, and its direct exposure to the surrounding environment make it an ideal candidate for furthering our understanding of the intertwined relationships between host and microbiome. Capturing the structure and diversity of bacterial communities from this low-biomass, inhibitor-rich tissue can, however, prove challenging. Lessons learned in doing so are directly applicable to similar sample types in other areas of microbiology. Through the development of a quantitative PCR assay for both host material and 16S rRNA genes, we tested and developed a robust method for low-biomass sample collection which minimized host DNA contamination. Quantification of 16S rRNA facilitated not only the screening of samples prior to costly library construction and sequencing but also the production of equicopy libraries based on 16S rRNA gene copies. A significant increase in diversity of bacteria captured was achieved, providing greater information on the true structure of the microbial community. Such findings offer important information for determining functional processes. Results were confirmed across fresh, brackish, and marine environs with four different fish species, with results showing broad homology between samples, demonstrating the robustness of the approach. Evidence presented is widely applicable to samples similar in composition, such as sputum or mucus, or those that are challenging due to the inherent inclusion of inhibitors. IMPORTANCE The interaction between the fish gill and surrounding bacteria-rich water provides an intriguing model for examining the interaction between the fish, free-floating bacteria, and the bacterial microbiome on the gill surface. Samples that are inherently low in bacteria, or that have components that inhibit the ability to produce libraries that identify the components of microbial communities, present significant challenges. Gill samples present both of these types of challenges. We developed methods for quantifying both the bacterial and host DNA material and established a sampling method which both reduced inhibitor content and maximized bacterial diversity. By quantifying and normalizing bacteria prior to library construction, we showed significant improvements with regards to the fidelity of the final data. Our results support wide-ranging applications for analyzing samples of similar composition, such as mucus and sputum, in other microbiological spheres.