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Food Research International
Vol. 131, 2020

Does Quorum Sensing play a role in microbial shifts along spontaneous fermentation of cocoa beans? An in silico perspective

O.G.G.Almeidaa, U.M.Pintob,1, C.B.Matosc, D.A.Frazilioa, V.F.Bragaa, M.R.von Zeska-Kressa, E.C.P.De Martinisa

AUniversidade de São Paulo – Faculdade de Ciências Farmacêuticas de Ribeirão Preto, Brazil


Cocoa fermentation is a spontaneous process shaped by a variable microbial ecosystem which is assembled due to cross-feeding relationship among yeasts and bacteria, resulting in a synchronized microbial succession started by yeasts, followed by lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and finalized by acetic acid bacteria (AAB). Several studies have indicated the effect of microbial interactions in food ecosystems highlighting the importance of quorum sensing (QS) in bacterial adaptation in harsh environments modulating several phenotypes such as biofilm formation, tolerance to acid stress, bacteriocin production, competence, morphological modifications, motility, among others. However, antagonic interactions also occur, and can be marked by Quorum Quenching (QQ) activity, negatively impacting QS regulated phenotypes. Our current knowledge regarding microbial cocoa composition and functioning is based on culture-based analysis and culture-independent PCR-based methods. Therefore, we set out to investigate the application of metagenomics analysis on a classical spontaneous cocoa fermentation in order to describe: (I) the microbial taxonomic composition; (II) the functional potential of the cocoa microbiome; (III) the microbiome putative QS potential; and (IV) the microbiome QQ potential. Both aims III and IV are related to the expression of effectors that may confer advantageous traits along fermentation which can explain their dominance in specific time zones during the entire process. We have observed a bacterial succession shaped by yeasts and filamentous fungi and then Enterobacteriaceales, LAB and AAB, as well as a diverse genetic metabolic potential related to proteins and carbohydrates metabolism associated to the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and members of the Enterobacteriaceales order and LAB and AAB groups. In addition, in silico evidences of interspecific QS arsenal were found in members of the genera Enterobacter, Lactobacillus, Bacillus and Pantoea, while inferences of intraspecific QS potential were found in the members of the genera Bacillus, Enterobacter, Komagataeibacter, Lactobacillus and Pantoea. In addition, a QQ potential was detected in Lactobacillus and in AAB members. These findings indicate that QS and QQ may modulate bacterial dominance in different time points during fermentation, along with cross-feeding, being responsible for their maintenance in a large time range.

Graphical abstract

Keywords: Cocoa fermentation, Cocoa metagenomics, Quorum Sensing, Quorum Quenching, Fermented foods, Food metagenomics

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