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In Vivo Imaging And Genetic Analysis Link Bacterial Motility And Symbiosis In The Zebrafish Gut

John F. Rawls, Michael A. Mahowald, Andrew L. Goodman, Chad M. Trent, Jeffrey I. Gordon

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Complex microbial communities reside within the intestines of humans and other vertebrates. Remarkably little is known about how these microbial consortia are established in various locations within the gut, how members of these consortia behave within their dynamic ecosystems, or what microbial factors mediate mutually beneficial host–microbial interactions. Using a gnotobiotic zebrafish–Pseudomonas aeruginosa model, we show that the transparency of this vertebrate species, coupled with methods for raising these animals under germ-free conditions can be used to monitor microbial movement and localization within the intestine in vivo and in real time. Germ-free zebrafish colonized with isogenic P. aeruginosa strains containing deletions of genes related to motility and pathogenesis revealed that loss of flagellar function results in attenuation of evolutionarily conserved host innate immune responses but not conserved nutrient responses. These results demonstrate the utility of gnotobiotic zebrafish in defining the behavior and localization of bacteria within the living vertebrate gut, identifying bacterial genes that affect these processes, and assessing the impact of these genes on host–microbial interactions.