Fish skin mucosal surfaces (SMS) are quite similar in composition and function to some mammalian MS and, in consequence, could constitute an adequate niche for the evolution of mucosal aquatic pathogens in natural environments. We aimed to test this hypothesis by searching for metagenomic and genomic evidences in the SMS-microbiome of a model fish species (Anguilla Anguilla or eel), from different ecosystems (four natural environments of different water salinity and one eel farm) as well as the water microbiome (W-microbiome) surrounding the host.
Remarkably, potentially pathogenic Vibrio monopolized wild eel SMS-microbiome from natural ecosystems, Vibrio anguillarum/Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio cholerae/Vibrio metoecus being the most abundant ones in SMS from estuary and lake, respectively. Functions encoded in the SMS-microbiome differed significantly from those in the W-microbiome and allowed us to predict that successful mucus colonizers should have specific genes for (i) attachment (mainly by forming biofilms), (ii) bacterial competence and communication, and (iii) resistance to mucosal innate immunity, predators (amoeba), and heavy metals/drugs. In addition, we found several mobile genetic elements (mainly integrative conjugative elements) as well as a series of evidences suggesting that bacteria exchange DNA in SMS. Further, we isolated and sequenced a V. metoecus strain from SMS. This isolate shares pathogenicity islands with V. cholerae O1 from intestinal infections that are absent in the rest of sequenced V. metoecus strains, all of them from water and extra-intestinal infections.
We have obtained metagenomic and genomic evidence in favor of the hypothesis on the role of fish mucosal surfaces as a specialized habitat selecting microbes capable of colonizing and persisting on other comparable mucosal surfaces, e.g., the human intestine.