Soils, biofilms, skin, lungs, and the human gut: They all have a microbiome, the complex of microorganisms that supports life, confers immunity, and (sometimes) gives pathogens an edge.
PNNL’s microbiome science research deploys omics and synthetic biology to understand and manipulate the functional architecture of communal microorganisms. These include mostly bacteria but fungi and archaea, too.
Such communal microorganisms inhabit the Earth and the human body in astonishing numbers. Bacteria alone are 100 million times more abundant than the stars in the universe, and they represent a billion different species.
These interactive organisms perform often little-understood services that profoundly shape the Earth and influence human health.
Some PNNL researchers are studying the microbiome under our feet.
They want to predict how individual microbes interact in the complex soil system, as well as how they respond to—and affect—changes above and below ground.
The soil microbiome is a form of biological dark matter. It is an intricate alliance of living and dead matter and inter-kingdom interactions. It inhabits a universe of biogeochemically complex pore spaces often just nanometers wide, riven with eccentric shapes and transport systems that are often alternately wet and dry.
Researchers search for how soil enzymes, metabolites, and microbial consortia interact and how they decompose the carbon stored in vast amounts in the world’s vulnerable soils. And they seek ways to predict how soil networks and their functions shift in response to changes in moisture regimes.
PNNL’s microbiome research supports the Department of Energy’s pursuit to use the powerful, natural tools within the environment to develop future bio-based products, clean energy, and next-generation technologies.
Microbiomes that inhabit the human body act like a second brain. They react to stimuli, including environmental perturbations, then prompt reactions that may support or degrade health.
PNNL researchers are looking at how this diverse body of personalized microorganisms helps cycle nutrients and how it influences both the cause and prevention of disease.
In addition, researchers are investigating the fate and function of chemicals in humans and microbiomes with a focus on exposures from the environment, diet, industry, and warfighting.