Thursday, 25 December 2014

Precise measurements of microbial ecosystems

Biologists have described the complex relationships within an ecosystem through a new model. The model ecosystem was a “biological wastewater treatment plant”. In it live numerous species of bacteria which are involved in the wastewater purification process.

For the analyses of the treatment plant ecosystem, the researchers employed Systems Biology methods. Wastewater destined for treatment comprises energy-rich substrates including fats, proteins, carbohydrates and many other substances that serve as nutrients for the resident bacteria. Every wastewater treatment plant is therefore a complex ecosystem.

The basis for this are the so-called "omics" -- genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics -- combined with new bioinformatic methods for integrated data analysis.

There is one species of bacteria that stands out and has grabbed the researchers' attention: Microthrix parvicella, whose genome sequence the LCSB group first decrypted two years ago. This bacterium can absorb and store an especially large amount of lipids. In winter, up to 50 percent of all bacteria on the surface of treatment tanks belong to this species.

The implication is that the lipids from wastewater stored in the bacteria are a renewable energy source since they can be easily converted into biodiesel.

For further details see:

Emilie E. L. Muller, Nicolás Pinel, Cédric C. Laczny, Michael R. Hoopmann, Shaman Narayanasamy, Laura A. Lebrun, Hugo Roume, Jake Lin, Patrick May, Nathan D. Hicks, Anna Heintz-Buschart, Linda Wampach, Cindy M. Liu, Lance B. Price, John D. Gillece, Cédric Guignard, James M. Schupp, Nikos Vlassis, Nitin S. Baliga, Robert L. Moritz, Paul S. Keim, Paul Wilmes. Community-integrated omics links dominance of a microbial generalist to fine-tuned resource usage. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 5603 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6603

Posted by Tim Sandle