Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

A Systems Biology Approach to Interactions and Resource Allocation in Bioenergy-Relevant Microbial Communities

The LLNL Biofuels Scientific Focus Area (SFA) is focused on the community systems biology of microbial consortia that are closely associated with bioenergy-relevant plants and algae, with the ultimate goal of developing predictive models. Photosynthetic algal and plant systems have the unrivaled advantage of converting solar energy and CO2 into useful organic molecules. Their growth and efficiency are largely shaped and assisted by their surrounding “microbiome”—the groups of microorganisms that dwell in and around plants and algae and live off photosynthate, exopolymers, or exudates. The biogeochemical outcomes of these interactions—how specific taxonomic combinations affect energy and nutrient cycling pathways and are shaped by various environmental stressors—are fundamental concerns in the fields of microbial ecology and bioenergy production.

We seek to understand and predict ecological, biophysical, and biochemical dynamics of multi-taxa communities, as well as the metabolite fluxes that regulate trophic interactions. In our research, we focus on microscale interactions between bacteria and algae in the phycosphere (the surface of algal cells) and between soil bacteria, fungi, and plant roots in the rhizosphere as model systems. Our approach emphasizes microbial ecology, organismal interactions, quantitative isotope tracing of elemental exchanges, and effects of environmental regulation, using techniques that exploit unique LLNL capabilities to measure the microscale impacts of single cells on system scale processes.

News Highlights

March 22, 2019

A beetle

New Publication on how beetle gut microbes make food and fuel

As part of an LLNL bioenergy study, project scientist Jennifer Pett-Ridge and collaborators have learned how the digestive system of a wood-eating beetle serves as a natural mini-reactor for biofuel production.

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SFA team member chairs session on photoheterotrophy

SFA team member Xavier Mayali recently co-chaired a session at the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography annual meeting in February (with Laura Gomez-Consarnau from the Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico) to bring together experts in a growing area of research.

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