Molecular Microbial Ecology

Encouraging beneficial services through understanding of microbial community structure and function

PictureMicrobial ecology and environmental biotechnology are inherently tied together.  Microbial ecology addresses which microorganisms are in an environment and how they work together.  Environmental biotechnology manages microorganisms to improve their environment in ways that provide us with important services.  Our lab focuses on three key areas of molecular microbial ecology:  (1) linking community structure to community function, (2) bioprospecting for microorganisms better able to provide services, such as bioremediation and energy production, and (3) identifying and enhancing syntrophic interactions between microorganisms to encourage services we desire from the microbial community.  

The Swette Center utilizes state-of-the-art molecular tools to understand microbial ecology.  We utilize low-throughput, but precisely targeted technologies like qPCR and T-RFLP, as well as advanced, high-throughput technologies like 454-pyrosequencing and Illumina MiSeq to identify and track microorganisms and important genes that are present.  We use the results of these identification techniques to understand process performance, including how the location of microorganisms in a biofilm affects the bioremediation of contaminants and how different microorganisms compete for the same substrate.  For example, we recently explained how homo-acetogenic bacteria are essential for good performance of a biofilm anode in an MXC, because they convert H2 + CO2 to acetate.  This provides substrate for the ARB, the desired outcome, and out-competes methanogens for H2 + CO2 that could be diverted to CH4, an undesired outcome. 

Left: Clustering based on unweighted UniFrac analyses and, Right: relative abundance of the most abundant microbial phylotypes in a H2-fed membrane biofilm reactor for nitrate and sulfate reduction.  For more information, click here.