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Plenary Lecture 1: Engineering syntrophic exchange in synthetic microbial communities

Wednesday 26th November 2014 - 13:30 to 14:05
INI Seminar Room 1
Co-authors: Michael T. Mee (Boston University), James J. Collins (Boston University), George M. Church (Harvard Medical School)

Metabolic crossfeeding is an important process that can broadly shape microbial communities. However, little is known about specific crossfeeding principles that drive the formation and maintenance of individuals within a mixed population. Here, we describe the construction of a series of synthetic syntrophic communities to probe the complex interactions underlying metabolic exchange of amino acids. We experimentally analyzed multimember, multidimensional communities of Escherichia coli of increasing sophistication to assess the outcomes of synergistic crossfeeding. We find that biosynthetically costly amino acids including methionine, lysine, isoleucine, arginine, and aromatics, tend to promote stronger cooperative interactions than amino acids that are cheaper to produce. Furthermore, cells that share common intermediates along branching pathways yielded more synergistic growth, but exhibited many instances of both positive and negative epistasis when these interactions sca led to higher dimensions. In more complex communities, we find certain members exhibiting keystone species-like behavior that drastically impact the community dynamics. Based on comparative genomic analysis of >6,000 sequenced bacteria from diverse environments, we present evidence suggesting that amino acid biosynthesis has been broadly optimized to reduce individual metabolic burden in favor of enhanced crossfeeding to support synergistic growth across the biosphere. These results improve our basic understanding of microbial syntrophy while also highlighting the utility and limitations of current modeling approaches to describe the dynamic complexities underlying microbial ecosystems. This work sets the foundation for future endeavors to resolve key questions in microbial ecology and evolution, and presents a platform to develop better and more robust engineered synthetic communities for industrial biotechnology.

Related links: - Wang Lab at Columbia University
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University of Cambridge Research Councils UK
    Clay Mathematics Institute London Mathematical Society NM Rothschild and Sons