282649 Finding the Rules That Determine Microbial Community Function

Sunday, October 28, 2012
Hall B (Convention Center )
James Boedicker, Applied Physics, Caltech, Pasadena, CA

Controlling the functional outputs of microbial communities will be an essential tool for addressing many of today’s scientific and technological challenges.  Microbial communities are critical in processes as diverse as nitrogen fixation in plants roots and wastewater treatment, and there is increasing awareness of the role of such communities in human health.  Recent interest in designing artificial communities of microbes for applications such as biofuel production or environmental remediation suggests that microbial communities are a central aspect to many emerging fields.  In order to effectively address the scientific, health and technological challenges associated with microbial communities, we must first learn how these communities make decisions and regulate activity.

The goal of my research is to develop experimental and theoretical tools to predict and control the behavior of multispecies microbial communities.  To that end, it will be essential both to understand how the local community composition influences community function and to develop predictive models of interspecies gene regulation.  I discuss my progress towards these goals, including using microfluidic approaches to understand how microbial activity is modulated by the micron-scale spatial structure of microbial cultures and the combination of quantitative models of gene regulation with experiments to test the precise predictions of these models.  My research will discover new functional communities, establish the input-output relationships of community function, determine strategies to control their activity, and enable us to apply microbial communities to address a broad range of biological and chemical challenges.

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