Communications Biology 4(1) , 1302 ( 2021)
Microbial biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs) encoding secondary metabolites are thought to impact a plethora of biologically mediated environmental processes, yet their discovery and functional characterization in natural microbiomes remains challenging. Here we describe deep long-read sequencing and assembly of metagenomes from biological soil crusts, a group of soil communities that are rich in BGCs. Taking advantage of the unusually long assemblies produced by this approach, we recovered nearly 3,000 BGCs for analysis, including 712 full-length BGCs. Functional exploration through metatranscriptome analysis of a 3-day wetting experiment uncovered phylum-specific BGC expression upon activation from dormancy, elucidating distinct roles and complex phylogenetic and temporal dynamics in wetting processes. For example, a pronounced increase in BGC transcription occurs at night primarily in cyanobacteria, implicating BGCs in nutrient scavenging roles and niche competition. Taken together, our results demonstrate that long-read metagenomic sequencing combined with metatranscriptomic analysis provides a direct view into the functional dynamics of BGCs in environmental processes and suggests a central role of secondary metabolites in maintaining phylogenetically conserved niches within biocrusts.