Modeling trophic dependencies and exchanges among insects' bacterial symbionts in a host-simulated environment

Itai Opatovsky, Diego Santos-Garcia, Zhepu Ruan, Tamar Lahav, Shany Ofaim, Laurence Mouton, Valérie Barbe, Jiandong Jiang, Einat Zchori-Fein, Shiri Freilich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Background: Individual organisms are linked to their communities and ecosystems via metabolic activities. Metabolic exchanges and co-dependencies have long been suggested to have a pivotal role in determining community structure. In phloem-feeding insects such metabolic interactions with bacteria enable complementation of their deprived nutrition. The phloem-feeding whitefly Bemisia tabaci (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) harbors an obligatory symbiotic bacterium, as well as varying combinations of facultative symbionts. This well-defined bacterial community in B. tabaci serves here as a case study for a comprehensive and systematic survey of metabolic interactions within the bacterial community and their associations with documented occurrences of bacterial combinations. We first reconstructed the metabolic networks of five common B. tabaci symbionts genera (Portiera, Rickettsia, Hamiltonella, Cardinium and Wolbachia), and then used network analysis approaches to predict: (1) species-specific metabolic capacities in a simulated bacteriocyte-like environment; (2) metabolic capacities of the corresponding species' combinations, and (3) dependencies of each species on different media components. Results: The predictions for metabolic capacities of the symbionts in the host environment were in general agreement with previously reported genome analyses, each focused on the single-species level. The analysis suggests several previously un-reported routes for complementary interactions and estimated the dependency of each symbiont in specific host metabolites. No clear association was detected between metabolic co-dependencies and co-occurrence patterns. Conclusions: The analysis generated predictions for testable hypotheses of metabolic exchanges and co-dependencies in bacterial communities and by crossing them with co-occurrence profiles, contextualized interaction patterns into a wider ecological perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Article number402
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 25 May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Bemisia tabaci
  • Metabolic interactions
  • Network analysis
  • Symbionts


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