Scientists develop and apply new tool for studying the dynamics of microbial communities

Microbial communities perform diverse chemical and physical transformations in every environment on Earth. These communities exhibit tremendous spatial and temporal variability. Abiotic (e.g. nutrient, pH) and biotic interactions shape the spatial distribution of microbes in natural environment such as the gut microbiome and plant rhizosphere. However, we do not fully understand how spatial arrangements influence microbial community metabolic activities, diversity or stability, or how to manipulate these spatial and temporal parameters to program community properties.

Photo of Ophelia S. Venturelli
Assistant professor Ophelia Venturelli.

Biochemistry Assistant Professor Ophelia Venturelli and her team of researchers have developed and applied an experimental platform to quantify the impact of spatial and temporal parameters on synthetic microbial communities, according to a study published May 15 in Nature Communications.

In this study, the team applied MISTiC (Mapping Interactions across Space and Time in Communities) to identify key parameters that impact community stability and quality of information transmission within microbial communities. The platform enables real-time quantification of the net impact of one strain on another’s growth rate, gene expression or other cellular phenotype and could be used to study diverse natural and synthetic communities.

Venturelli’s lab seeks to understand and engineer microbial communities across space and time. Her lab develops and applies computational and experimental techniques to quantify complex interaction networks with applications in human health and bioenergy.

Illustration of experimental techniques.