Authors: Antonio Loza, Fernando García-Guevara, Lorenzo Segovia, Alejandra Escobar-Zepeda, Maria del Carmen Sanchez-Olmos†, Enrique Merino, Alejandro Sanchez-Flores, Liliana Pardo-Lopez, Katy Juarez and Rosa-Maria Gutierrez-Rios


Computational and statistical analysis of shotgun metagenomes can predict gene abundance and is helpful for elucidating the functional and taxonomic compositions of environmental samples. Gene products are compared against physicochemical conditions or perturbations to shed light on the functions performed by the microbial community of an environmental sample; however, this information is not always available. The present study proposes a method for inferring the metabolic potential of metagenome samples by constructing a reference based on determining the probability distribution of the counts of each enzyme annotated. To test the methodology, we used marine water samples distributed worldwide as references. Then, the references were utilized to compare the annotated enzymes of two different water samples extracted from the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) to distinguish those enzymes with atypical behavior. The enzymes whose annotation counts presented frequencies significantly different from those of the reference were used to perform metabolic reconstruction, which naturally identified pathways. We found that several of the enzymes were involved in the biodegradation of petroleum, which is consistent with the impact of human hydrocarbon extraction activity and its ubiquitous presence in the GoM. The examination of other reconstructed pathways revealed significant enzymes indicating the presence of microbial communities characterizing each ocean depth and ocean cycle, providing a fingerprint of each sampled site.

Keywords: Gulf of Mexico, reference metagenomes, metabolic potential, metabolic network, key enzymes, hydrocarbon degradation