[MARMAM] New publication on the humpback whale skin microbiome

Amy Apprill aapprill at whoi.edu
Fri Apr 4 04:20:08 PDT 2014

Dear colleagues,
I am pleased to share our recent open-access publication on the humpback 
whale skin microbiome:

Apprill A, Robbins J, Eren, AM, Pack AA, Reveillaud J, Mattila D, Moore 
M, Niemeyer M, Moore KMT, Mincer TJ.  2014. Humpback whale populations 
share a core skin bacterial community: towards a health index for marine 
mammals? PLOS ONE, e90785.
open access: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0090785

Microbes are now well regarded for their important role in mammalian 
health. The microbiology of skin -- a unique interface between the host 
and environment - is a major research focus in human health and skin 
disorders, but is less explored in other mammals. Here, we report on a 
cross-population study of the skin-associated bacterial community of 
humpback whales (/Megaptera novaeangliae/), and examine the potential 
for a core bacterial community and its variability with host 
(endogenous) or geographic/environmental (exogenous) specific factors. 
Skin biopsies or freshly sloughed skin from 56 individuals were sampled 
from populations in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and South Pacific 
oceans and bacteria were characterized using 454 pyrosequencing of SSU 
rRNA genes. Phylogenetic and statistical analyses revealed the ubiquity 
and abundance of bacteria belonging to the /Flavobacteria/ genus 
/Tenacibaculum/ and the /Gammaproteobacteria/ genus /Psychrobacter/ 
across the whale populations. Scanning electron microscopy of skin 
indicated that microbial cells colonize the skin surface. Despite the 
ubiquity of /Tenacibaculum/ and /Psychrobater/ spp., the relative 
composition of the skin-bacterial community differed significantly by 
geographic area as well as metabolic state of the animals (feeding 
versus starving during migration and breeding), suggesting that both 
exogenous and endogenous factors may play a role in influencing the 
skin-bacteria. Further, characteristics of the skin bacterial community 
from these free-swimming individuals were assembled and compared to two 
entangled and three dead individuals, revealing a decrease in the 
central or core bacterial community members (/Tenacibaculum/ and 
/Psychrobater/ spp.), as well as the emergence of potential pathogens in 
the latter cases. This is the first discovery of a cross-population, 
shared skin bacterial community. This research suggests that the skin 
bacteria may be connected to humpback health and immunity and could 
possibly serve as a useful index for health and skin disorder monitoring 
of threatened and endangered marine mammals.

Kind regards,

Amy Apprill
Assistant Scientist
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
266 Woods Hole Rd, Woods Hole MA 02543

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