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

November 23, 2022

New SFA publication shows detection of a new class of non-photosynthetic nitrogen fixation

LLNL and UC Santa Cruz scientists have detected a previously hypothesized class of nitrogen fixation in the surface ocean.

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