Assessing similarities and disparities in the skin microbiota between wild and laboratory populations of house mice

Meriem Belheouane, Marie Vallier, Aleksa Čepić, Cecilia J. Chung, Saleh Ibrahim, John F. Baines*

*Corresponding author for this work


The house mouse is a key model organism in skin research including host–microbiota interactions, yet little is known about the skin microbiota of free-living mice. It is similarly unclear how closely laboratory mice, which typically live under exceptionally hygienic conditions, resemble the ancestral state of microbial variation in the wild. In this study, we sampled an area spanning 270 km2 in south-west France and collected 203 wild Mus musculus domesticus. We profiled the ear skin microbiota on standing and active communities (DNA-based and RNA-based 16 rRNA gene sequencing, respectively), and compared multiple community aspects between wild-caught and laboratory-reared mice kept in distinct facilities. Compared to lab mice, we reveal the skin microbiota of wild mice on the one hand to be unique in their composition within the Staphylococcus genus, with a majority of sequences most closely matching known novobiocin-resistant species, and display evidence of a rare biosphere. On the other hand, despite drastic disparities between natural and laboratory environments, we find that shared taxa nonetheless make up the majority of the core skin microbiota of both wild- and laboratory skin communities, suggesting that mammalian skin is a highly specialized habitat capable of strong selection from available species pools. Finally, the influence of environmental factors suggests RNA-based profiling as a preferred method to reduce environmental noise.

Original languageEnglish
JournalISME Journal
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)2367-2380
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 01.10.2020

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 205-19 Dermatology


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