mSphere 3(3) (Jun 27 2018)
Genome streamlining is frequently observed in free-living aquatic microorganisms and results in physiological dependencies between microorganisms. However, we know little about the specificity of these microbial associations. In order to examine the specificity and extent of these associations, we established mixed cultures from three different freshwater environments and analyzed the cooccurrence of organisms using a metagenomic time series. Free-living microorganisms with streamlined genomes lacking multiple biosynthetic pathways showed no clear recurring pattern in their interaction partners. Free-living freshwater bacteria form promiscuous cooperative associations. This notion contrasts with the well-documented high specificities of interaction partners in host-associated bacteria. Considering all data together, we suggest that highly abundant free-living bacterial lineages are functionally versatile in their interactions despite their distinct streamlining tendencies at the single-cell level. This metabolic versatility facilitates interactions with a variable set of community members.