The Earthworm Microbiome – PhD thesis now available online


My thesis has now been ratified by the university and deposited in the database! You can download it here. The summary is below to whet your appetite!


Background: Host-associated microbial communities play a significant role in a species’ environmental interactions, often performing functions unachievable by the eukaryotic host, and is essential in developing a comprehensive understanding of the species and its impact on the local and global ecosystem.

Earthworms (Lumbricina) habituate almost every type of soil environment globally, including sites of severe environmental stress and is an essential ecosystem engineer, central to healthy natural and agricultural soils. To date, only a singular symbiotic species (Verminephrobacter sp.) has been identified, but the earthworm impact on transient microbial communities and the surrounding soil microbiome is profound.

Methods: Previous culture and molecular based studies found earthworm-associated microbiota unlikely however, this has not been explored using High Throughput Sequencing. Utilisation of Illumina, 454 and Ion Torrent sequencing has enabled production of the highest resolution microbial analysis of host-associated bacteria of any single eukaryotic species to date, including spatial bacterial localisation of the entire Lumbricus rubellus organism and impact analysis of a wide range of anthropogenic contaminants and environmental stressors on the basal microbiomic community.

Results: A core bacterial community has been described which is distinct from the surrounding soil. A number of novel species have been associated with the earthworm crop, body wall and hindgut, contravening claims that the earthworm has limited or no impact on ingested soil bacteria. This demonstrate that the host properties impart significant effects on the transient population, demanding further analysis to determine potential symbiotic functionality. However, while a biologically important community has been described, the significant impact of anthropogenic contamination on the host microbiome must be considered given the observed eradication of the Verminephrobacter symbiont during the host’s exposure to arsenic and the potential subsequent implications on host health.