Genetic basis for the cooperative bioactivation of plant lignans by Eggerthella lenta and other human gut bacteria

Elizabeth N. Bess, Jordan E. Bisanz, Fauna Yarza, Annamarie Bustion, Barry E. Rich, Xingnan Li, Seiya Kitamura, Emily Waligurski, Qi Yan Ang, Diana L. Alba, Peter Spanogiannopoulos, Stephen Nayfach, Suneil K. Koliwad, Dennis W. Wolan, Adrian A. Franke, Peter J. Turnbaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Plant-derived lignans, consumed daily by most individuals, are thought to protect against cancer and other diseases1; however, their bioactivity requires gut bacterial conversion to enterolignans2. Here, we dissect a four-species bacterial consortium sufficient for all five reactions in this pathway. A single enzyme (benzyl ether reductase, encoded by the gene ber) was sufficient for the first two biotransformations, variable between strains of Eggerthella lenta, critical for enterolignan production in gnotobiotic mice and unique to Coriobacteriia. Transcriptional profiling (RNA sequencing) independently identified ber and genomic loci upregulated by each of the remaining substrates. Despite their low abundance in gut microbiomes and restricted phylogenetic range, all of the identified genes were detectable in the distal gut microbiomes of most individuals living in northern California. Together, these results emphasize the importance of considering strain-level variations and bacterial co-occurrence to gain a mechanistic understanding of the bioactivation of plant secondary metabolites by the human gut microbiome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-66
Number of pages11
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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