[MARMAM] New publication: Coordinated transformation of the gut microbiome and lipidome of bowhead whales provides novel insights into digestion

Carolyn A. Miller cmiller at whoi.edu
Wed Dec 4 11:14:15 PST 2019

My co-authors and I are pleased to announce our recent publication in 

Carolyn A. Miller, Henry C. Holm, Lara Horstmann, J. Craig George, Helen 
F. Fredricks, Benjamin A. S. Van Mooy, Amy Apprill. 
Coordinated transformation of the gut microbiome and lipidome of bowhead 
whales provides novel insights into digestion. /ISME J/ (2019) 

Abstract: Whale digestion plays an integral role in many ocean 
ecosystems. By digesting enormous quantities of lipid-rich prey, whales 
support their energy intensive lifestyle, but also excrete nutrients 
important to ocean biogeochemical cycles. Nevertheless, whale digestion 
is poorly understood. Gastrointestinal microorganisms play a significant 
role in vertebrate digestion, but few studies have examined them in 
whales. To investigate digestion of lipids, and the potential 
contribution of microbes to lipid digestion in whales, we characterized 
lipid composition (lipidomes) and bacterial communities (microbiotas) in 
126 digesta samples collected throughout the gastrointestinal tracts of 
38 bowhead whales (/Balaena mysticetus/) harvested by Alaskan Eskimos. 
Lipidomes and microbiotas were strongly correlated throughout the 
gastrointestinal tract. Lipidomes and microbiotas were most variable in 
the small intestine and most similar in the large intestine, where 
microbiota richness was greatest. Our results suggest digestion of wax 
esters, the primary lipids in /B. mysticetus/ prey representing more 
than 80% of total dietary lipids, occurred in the mid- to distal small 
intestine and was correlated with specific microorganisms. Because wax 
esters are difficult to digest by other marine vertebrates and 
constitute a large reservoir of carbon in the ocean, our results further 
elucidate the essential roles that whales and their gastrointestinal 
microbiotas play in the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients 
in high-latitude seas.

The paper is available through open access at: 

Kind regards,

Carolyn Miller

Carolyn A. Miller, Ph.D.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry

Mail Stop #4

266 Woods Hole Road

Woods Hole, MA 02543

cmiller at whoi.edu <mailto:cmiller at whoi.edu>

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