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Understanding/engineering cell and community metabolism

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lorenzo Di Michele.

The vision of synthetic biology to engineer biology using predictive models and high-throughput approaches. While this vision statement is very broad, synthetic biology efforts to date mostly focus on genetic circuit design in model organisms. I will present a different approach, where we combine engineering and natural principles towards creating multi-species microbial ecosystems. These so-called synthetic microbial communities can allow harvesting the full functional potential of the microbial world, leading to novel applications such as artificial gut, synthetic soil, waste-to-value conversion, and ecosystem functions in space missions. They can also act as model systems for understanding microbial interactions and ecology. To successfully design synthetic microbial communities composed of multiple microbial species that are biochemically and industrially relevant, we first need to establish the design principles governing microbial interactions and develop the experimental tools for their characterisation and manipulation. Here, I will describe our ongoing efforts in discovering the reasons for metabolic interactions among microbes. I will argue that these metabolic interactions can be understood as an emergent property of the biochemical environment and associated thermodynamics within a multi-species system. Particularly, results from our recent research has shown that the thermodynamic basis of microbial growth can lead to co-existence, even under conditions that are kinetically predicted to lead to competition-driven exclusion. This thermodynamic inhibition can have significant consequences for the engineering of multi-species system. I will illustrate these points in the context of experimental systems that we are developing in our group, where we aim to establish key metabolic interaction motifs among biochemically and biotechnologically relevant microbes and extending to inter-kingdom interactions with fungi and plants.

This talk is part of the BSS Formal Seminars series.

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