Microbial community structure predicted by the stable marriage problem

12/17/2017
by   Akshit Goyal, et al.
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Experimental studies of microbial communities routinely reveal several stable states. While each of these states is generally resilient, exposure to antibiotics, probiotics, or different diets often trigger transitions to other states. Can we predict which specific perturbations will cause such transitions? Here we present a new conceptual model - inspired by the stable marriage problem - which both exhibits these emergent phenomena and makes such predictions. Our model's core ingredient is that microbes utilize nutrients one at a time, while competing with each other. Using only two ranked tables with microbes' nutrient preferences and competitive abilities, we can determine all the stable states as well as the specific perturbations driving a community from one state to another. Using an example of 7 Bacteroides species utilizing 9 polysaccharides common to the human gut, we predict that mutual complementarity in nutrient preferences enables these species to coexist at high abundances.

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