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Metagenomic analysis reveals a functional signature for biomass degradation by cecal microbiota in the leaf-eating flying squirrel (Petaurista alborufus lena)

Hsiao-Pei Lu1, Yu-bin Wang12, Shiao-Wei Huang1, Chung-Yen Lin2, Martin Wu3, Chih-hao Hsieh45 and Hon-Tsen Yu16*

Author affiliations

1 Institute of Zoology and Department of Life Science, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC

2 Institute of Information Science, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan

3 Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, 22904, USA

4 Institute of Oceanography, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

5 Institute of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

6 Genome and Systems Biology Degree Program, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:466  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-466

Published: 10 September 2012



Animals co-evolve with their gut microbiota; the latter can perform complex metabolic reactions that cannot be done independently by the host. Although the importance of gut microbiota has been well demonstrated, there is a paucity of research regarding its role in foliage-foraging mammals with a specialized digestive system.


In this study, a 16S rRNA gene survey and metagenomic sequencing were used to characterize genetic diversity and functional capability of cecal microbiota of the folivorous flying squirrel (Petaurista alborufus lena). Phylogenetic compositions of the cecal microbiota derived from 3 flying squirrels were dominated by Firmicutes. Based on end-sequences of fosmid clones from 1 flying squirrel, we inferred that microbial metabolism greatly contributed to intestinal functions, including degradation of carbohydrates, metabolism of proteins, and synthesis of vitamins. Moreover, 33 polysaccharide-degrading enzymes and 2 large genomic fragments containing a series of carbohydrate-associated genes were identified.


Cecal microbiota of the leaf-eating flying squirrel have great metabolic potential for converting diverse plant materials into absorbable nutrients. The present study should serve as the basis for future investigations, using metagenomic approaches to elucidate the intricate mechanisms and interactions between host and gut microbiota of the flying squirrel digestive system, as well as other mammals with similar adaptations.

Coevolution; Gut microbiota; Folivore; Metagenomics; Fosmid