Studying the robustness and long-term dynamics of synthetic microbial foodwebs

This project will be supervised by Ruben Garrido-Oter at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research


Experimental microbial systems have long been employed to explore key questions in ecology, dating back almost a hundred years. Reductionist systems consisting of assemblages of few microbial strains have been instrumental in ecological research, providing fundamental insights such as the principle of competitive exclusion, the dynamics of predator-prey systems, or the predictability of ecological tipping points. Recently, advances in high-throughput isolation of microbial strains have enabled the reconstitution of more complex, ecologically-inspired synthetic communities from a variety of environments. One such system is based on mutualistic interactions between the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and a community of associated phycosphere bacteria. Recently, we have demonstrated the potential of this system by exploring the mechanisms driving the assembly of microbiota structures conserved between terrestrial green algae and land plants. In this project, we will construct synthetic microbial foodwebs consisting of three groups of organisms: a primary producer (the alga C. reinhardtii), a predator (the model ciliate Tetrahymena pyriformis) and a synthetic community of phycosphere bacteria. Experiments using gnotobiotic photobioreactors will allow us to precisely measure microbial community and exo-metabolome composition in long-term experiments. These data will be analysed using state-of-the-art bioinformatic tools and machine learning approaches in order to explore the long-term behaviour of synthetic microbial foodwebs. If successful, this project has the potential to help answer fundamental questions in theoretical ecology and to make practical contributions to restoration ecology and biotechnology.

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Key publication: Durán P, Flores-Uribe J, Wippel K, Zhang P, Guan R, Melkonian B, Melkonian M, Garrido-Oter R. Shared features and reciprocal complementation of the Chlamydomonas and Arabidopsis microbiota. Nat Commun. 2022 Jan 20;13(1):406. doi:

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