Our current research goal is to develop the theoretical and experimental tools to study and control social interactions within microbial ecosystems. In the lab, we are developing a microbial ecosystem containing four bacterial species that is used to degrade the toxic compounds in “metal-working fluids”, which are liquids used in large manufacturing facilities and later disposed to landfill . We are studying this system with a whole range of methods, to understand the mechanisms behind social interactions in microbial communities and how they evolve over time. These experiments are tightly coupled with predictive mathematical and computational models. Understanding this comparatively simple microbial ecosystem will aid in studying more complex microbial communities in the future, with many important applications such as the control of microbial infections in humans, the engineering of fertilisers to increase crop efficiency and the purification of contaminated soil. In our latest paper with this model system , we show that the four species have positive effects on one another when growing in metal-working fluids because the liquids are toxic for the bacteria. Making the environment more benign led to competition.
1. C. van der Gast, I. Thompson (2014) United States Patent.
2. P. Piccardi, B. Vessman, S. Mitri (2019) PNAS.