Microbial Diversity in Marine Mammals

Marine mammals play crucial roles in the ecology of our oceans. They serve as apex predators and keystone species in the food web, influence marine nutrient storage and recycling, and are important indicators of ocean health. Their evolutionary history suggests multiple independent returns from land and adaptations to life in the sea. These intelligent animals also have economic value due to their aesthetic and intrinsic value to humans.  Despite their importance, little is known about the indigenous microbiota of marine mammals.

Using 16S rRNA gene amplicon surveys and metagenomic techniques, we are characterizing the microbial communities of marine mammals in an effort to understand how these communities reflect the marine lifestyle of their hosts. Unexpectedly, these communities host a rich diversity of bacteria from poorly understood, or even undescribed phylum-level lineages. We also seek to characterize some of these novel microbial lineages and their functional potential. Other goals are to understand how the microbiome of healthy marine mammals is affected by perturbation and the degree to which it reflects dietary preferences.


Relevant Publications

Novel Microbial Diversity and Functional Potential in the Marine Mammal Oral Microbiome

Natasha K. Dudek, Christine L. Sun, David Burstein, Rose S. Kantor, Daniela S. Aliaga Goltsman, Elisabeth M. Bik, Brian C. Thomas, Jillian F. Banfield, David A. Relman (2017) Current Biology.

Marine Mammals Harbor Unique Microbiotas Shaped By and Yet Distinct from the Sea

Bik EM, Costello EK, Switzer AD, Callahan BJ, Holmes SP, Wells RS, Carlin KP, Jensen ED, Venn-Watson S, Relman DA (2016) Nature Communications.