Simplifying microbial communities to decrypt complex interactions
All life on earth depends on the actions of microorganisms. For example, the digestion system of humans depends on a vital relationship with a community of microorganisms that control the breakdown of ingested food whilst forming a protective barrier against disease and infection. Microorganisms also play a central role in the turnover of biomass, be it in natural ecosystems or in the production of bioenergy. With the help of microbial communities, we can convert a wide range of plant biomass and agricultural waste into renewable fuels and bioproducts. The microbial degradation of organic matter is usually not carried out by one bacterium, but rather a complex network of microbial populations where microbes work together by performing different tasks that complement each other. Researchers who wish to study these important microorganisms and their relation to each other, encounter many technical challenges. One key bottleneck is that the vast majority of microorganisms that exist in nature cannot be grown and studied in the laboratory, which means a complete understanding of how they operate and collaborate is restricted. This project seeks to utilize recent advancements in molecular and computational technologies to create new knowledge into how microorganisms, which cannot be grown in the lab, can work together to perform important tasks in bio-industries. We will develop methods that will piece together the DNA and proteins that are used by different microorganisms who work together in a community to convert organic material. Important fragments of DNA (called genes) and proteins will be examined in detail and their suitability to industrial applications will be assessed. The project is expected to advance scientific understanding within key Norwegian research activities that rely on the microbial conversion of organic material. Specifically, these activities entail enhanced production of bioethanol and biogas and agricultural feed production and conversion.
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