Host genotype structures the microbiome of a globally dispersed marine phytoplankton

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Phytoplankton support complex bacterial microbiomes that rely on phytoplankton-derived extracellular compounds and perform functions necessary for algal growth. Recent work has revealed sophisticated interactions and exchanges of molecules between specific phytoplankton-bacteria pairs, but the role of host genotype in regulating those interactions is unknown. Here, we show how phytoplankton microbiomes are shaped by intraspecific genetic variation in the host using global environmental isolates of the model phytoplankton host Thalassiosira rotula and a laboratory common garden experiment. A set of 81 environmental T. rotula genotypes from three ocean basins and eight genetically distinct populations did not reveal a core microbiome. While no single bacterial phylotype was shared across all genotypes, we found strong genotypic influence of T. rotula, with microbiomes associating more strongly with host genetic population than with environmental factors. The microbiome association with host genetic population persisted across different ocean basins, suggesting that microbiomes may be associated with host populations for decades. To isolate the impact of host genotype on microbiomes, a common garden experiment using eight genotypes from three distinct host populations again found that host genotype influenced microbial community composition, suggesting that a process we describe as genotypic filtering, analogous to environmental filtering, shapes phytoplankton microbiomes. In both the environmental and laboratory studies, microbiome variation between genotypes suggests that other factors influenced microbiome composition but did not swamp the dominant signal of host genetic background. The long-term association of microbiomes with specific host genotypes reveals a possible mechanism explaining the evolution and maintenance of complex phytoplankton-bacteria chemical exchanges.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America