Community systems biology of microscale interactions for sustainable bioenergy

The µBiospheres SFA research program seeks to understand phototroph–heterotroph interactions that shape productivity, robustness, the balance of resource fluxes (carbon, nutrients, water), and the functionality of the surrounding microbiome. Photosynthetic algal and plant systems have the unrivaled advantage of converting solar energy and carbon dioxide into useful organic molecules. Their growth and efficiency are largely shaped and assisted by the microbial communities that dwell in and around them and live off their products. We hypothesize that different microbial associates not only have differential effects on host productivity but can change an entire system’s resource economy—a critical metric for sustainable bioenergy cultivation.

Our ultimate goal is to discover cross-cutting principles that regulate formation and maintenance of phototroph–microbial interactions and their system-level resource allocation consequences, in order to develop a general predictive framework for system-level impacts of microbial partnerships. While these interactions occur at microscale interfaces, they are rarely measured at micron scales. We focus on two bioenergy systems (microalgae and C4 grasses), and our approach encompasses single cell analyses, quantitative isotope tracing of elemental exchanges, system-scale ‘omics measurements, and multi-scale modeling to address this gap.

News Highlights

February 24, 2022

Principal-component analyses of algal exometabolite profiles

New publication characterizing exometabolites from a diverse suite of microalgae

µBiospheres SFA postdoc Vanessa Brisson led a study which sought to identify effector metabolites that may be involved in interactions within or between algal strains.

a porous microplate system

New publication presents a novel co-culture method for algal–bacterial interaction

Aiming to mimic the phycosphere and monitor microbial activities within its region, SFA team members developed a co-culture method “porous microplate” that enables the metabolic interaction between algae and bacteria.