Neha Garg, Yi Zeng, Anna Edlund, Alexey V. Melnik, Laura M. Sanchez, Hosein Mohimani, Alexey Gurevich, Vivian Miao, Stefan Schiffler, Yan Wei Lim, Tal Luzzatto-Knaan, Shengxin Cai, Forest Rohwer, Pavel A. Pevzner, Robert H. Cichewicz, Theodore Alexandrov, Pieter C. Dorrestein
Microbes are commonly studied as individual species, but they exist as mixed assemblages in nature. At present, we know very little about the spatial organization of the molecules, including natural products that are produced within these microbial networks. Lichens represent a particularly specialized type of symbiotic microbial assemblage in which the component microorganisms exist together. These composite microbial assemblages are typically comprised of several types of microorganisms representing phylogenetically diverse life forms, including fungi, photosymbionts, bacteria, and other microbes. Here, we employed matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization–time of flight (MALDI-TOF) imaging mass spectrometry to characterize the distributions of small molecules within a Peltigera lichen. In order to probe how small molecules are organized and localized within the microbial consortium, analytes were annotated and assigned to their respective producer microorganisms using mass spectrometry-based molecular networking and metagenome sequencing. The spatial analysis of the molecules not only reveals an ordered layering of molecules within the lichen but also supports the compartmentalization of unique functions attributed to various layers. These functions include chemical defense (e.g., antibiotics), light-harvesting functions associated with the cyanobacterial outer layer (e.g., chlorophyll), energy transfer (e.g., sugars) surrounding the sun-exposed cyanobacterial layer, and carbohydrates that may serve a structural or storage function and are observed with higher intensities in the non-sun-exposed areas (e.g., complex carbohydrates).