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Biological Sciences Microbial Communities: Research Banner

We face a series of critical problems related to the production and consumption of energy, as well as to the environmental consequences of those processes. For these problems, microbial processes are important elements of solutions such as sustainable bioenergy and bioprocessing, assessment of climate change impact and adaptation, and cost-effective cleanup technologies.

The Challenge

Microorganisms in natural or engineered ecosystems rarely live alone, but instead function as integrated units—or communities—that process energy and materials and thereby affect their environment. Despite their importance, we know little about microbial community function and behavior. As a result, we have little ability to predict changes in microbial community dynamics during either natural cycles of change or environmental perturbations—such as climate change or inputs of toxic pollutants.

Focus of the Microbial Communities Initiative

The Microbial Communities Initiative is a 5-year investment by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that integrates biological/ecological experimentation, analytical chemistry, and simulation modeling. The objective is to create transforming technologies, elucidate mechanistic forces, and develop theoretical frameworks for the analysis and predictive understanding of microbial communities.

The focus of the MCI is on understanding microbial community interactions at the fundamental scale at which they occur—at the microscale (<100 microns). This focus requires significant technology development and its specific application to community-level ecological questions.

Approach: Seeing the World That Microbes See

In particular, the MCI will develop novel technologies that address fundamental questions in the field of microbial community ecology:

  • "seeing the world that microbes see," that is, material and energy flux rates at a spatial scale of microns
  • applying genomic/proteomic technologies to questions in microbial community ecology
  • individually based simulation modeling informed by experimental observations.
Microbial Communities Initiatives
Within the Microbial Communities Initiative, experiments at the micrcosm—or representative system—level will provide valuable data for developing models and technologies that will further understanding of microbial communities at the microscale.

Microbial Communities

Biological Sciences Division

Fundamental & Computational Sciences

Research Highlights

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1st Quarter


2nd Quarter

1st Quarter


Beyond the Batch: Understanding the Physical and Biological Structure of Microbial Communities
February 7, 2011
12:30 p.m.
EMSL Auditorium

Microbial Communities on YouTube Icon


Initiative Lead

, Lead
Microengineering and Microanalytics

, Lead
Simulation Modeling

, Lead
Extending Genomics & Proteomics to Quantitative Functional Analyses