Microbial Community Assembly and Interactions: Lessons from Extreme Environments
Susannah Green Tringe, DOE Joint Genome Institute

Microorganisms are ubiquitous in our environment, including habitats seemingly inhospitable to life, and are critical to the biogeochemical cycles that sustain our planet. Yet these environmental microbes are challenging to cultivate and study due to fastidious growth requirements, obligate interactions with other organisms, or unknown reasons, and thus understanding of their ecology and evolution has lagged behind that of pathogenic microorganisms. Environmental DNA sequencing has provided a window on the communities of organisms inhabiting diverse environments, revealing an astonishing diversity of organisms and functions not accessible via culture-based methods. Extreme environments such as hot springs provide a unique opportunity to understand the interactions of microorganisms with their environment and with each other, as they often harbor communities of limited and well-defined diversity.

I will cover the history of microbial community genomics (aka metagenomics) with an emphasis on how microbial communities in extreme environments have helped shaped our understanding of microbial evolution and microbial community formation. Recent work has shed light on how microbial communities colonize and persist in environmental niches, how individual microorganisms cooperate and compete with each other, and even whether microbial “species” exist. Ultimately, we hope to use these insights to form a predictive understanding of microbial community behavior in the environment.

Background Review Article:

Faust K, Raes J. Microbial interactions: from networks to models.Nat Rev Microbiol. 2012 Jul 16;10(8):538-50. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2832.

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