The herbicide active ingredient glyphosate can affect the growth of microorganisms, which rely on the shikimate pathway for aromatic amino acid biosynthesis. However, it is uncertain whether glyphosate exposure could lead to perturbations in the population of human gut microbiota. We have addressed this knowledge gap by analysing publicly available datasets to provide new insights into possible effects of glyphosate on the human gut microbiome. Comparison of the abundance of the shikimate pathway in 734 paired metagenomes and metatranscriptomes indicated that most gut bacteria do not possess a complete shikimate pathway, and that this pathway is mostly transcriptionally inactive in the human gut microbiome. This suggests that gut bacteria are mostly aromatic amino acid auxotrophs and thus relatively resistant to a potential growth inhibition by glyphosate. As glyphosate blocking of the shikimate pathway is via inhibition of EPSPS, we classified E. coli EPSPS enzyme homologues as class I (sensitive to glyphosate) and class II (resistant to glyphosate). Among 44 subspecies reference genomes, accounting for 72% of the total assigned microbial abundance in 2144 human faecal metagenomes, 9 subspecies have class II EPSPS. The study of publicly available gut metagenomes also indicated that glyphosate might be degraded by some Proteobacteria in the human gut microbiome using the carbon–phosphorus lyase pathway. Overall, there is limited experimental evidence available for the effects of glyphosate on the human gut microbiome. Further investigations using more advanced molecular profiling techniques are needed to ascertain whether glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides can alter the function of the gut microbiome with consequent health implications.
- Gut microbiome