The future of industry may involve using microbes to generate energy or process chemicals. But how will these microbes respond when they are grouped into communities in an industrial setting? A team of scientists from PNNL and Washington State University Tri-Cities began to answer that question by determining how an environmental change, such as a different pH level, affected a community of microbes. The study is described in FEMS Microbiology Ecology.
Janet Jansson, director of biological sciences at PNNL, was among 15 national experts in the fields of microbiology, genomics, and microbial ecology who participated in a Microbiome Roundtable held by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on December 18 at the White House Complex. The microbiome is the community of all microorganisms that typically inhabits a particular environment, such as a body site or an environmental ecosystem. Microbiome studies have widespread implications in health and nutrition, food and agriculture, and energy and the environment.
As scientists strive to gain a systems-level understanding of microbial communities, their task grows increasingly more complex. Yet the benefits of doing this work can lead to new ways to engineer these amazing biological systems with significant implications for bioenergy, carbon sequestration, and bioremediation.
In ongoing work to integrate field investigations with well-controlled laboratory studies, scientists at PNNL grew two bacteria in a co-culture and applied deep transcriptome sequencing to study the physiological and genetic underpinnings driving interspecies interactions. They investigated the effect of co-cultivation and carbon flux directions on interactions between a salt-tolerant cyanobacterium, Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 and a marine heterotroph, Shewanella putrefaciens W3-18-1. Their results provide novel and relevant insights into the physiological basis of microbial interactions.
Rapidly growing bacteria that live in the ocean and can manufacture their own food hold promise as host organisms for producing chemicals, biofuels, and medicine. Researchers at PNNL and Penn State are closely studying one of these photosynthetic species of fast-growing cyanobacteria using advanced tools developed at PNNL to determine the optimum environment that contributes to record growth and productivity. Their work on how the cyanobacteria respond to different wavelengths of light, as critical resources, recently was featured in Frontiers in Microbiology.
A recent study at PNNL used a novel combination of techniques to reveal how carbon dioxide (CO2) injections—a process that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere—could affect sulfate-reducing bacteria that catalyze a key biogeochemical process in the deep subsurface. Ultimately, these findings offer an insight into the effects of CO2 sequestration on indigenous microbial populations, and could lead to new strategies for improving the success of CO2 sequestration, thereby helping to reduce climate change.