A single-cell perspective on metabolic interactions in bacterial communities
Communities of interacting microbial cells drive many important processes on our planet, including the cycling of elements on a global scale. A central question is how the functions of these communities emerge from the activities of individual cells and their interactions. Many of these microbial consortia reside on surfaces, for example in biofilms, on particles and in the sediment. In such spatially structured consortia, interactions are expected to mainly occur between cells that are close in space. Our goal here is to better understand such interactions between individual cells – to measure the spatial scale over which cells interact metabolically, and to understand the spatial self-organization of microbial communities at the microscale.
We work with synthetic consortia of genetic mutants with well-defined metabolic interactions and with assembled chitin-degrading communities from the ocean, and use microfluidics and quantitative single-cell analysis to understand how the phenotype and growth of individual cells is influenced by interactions with the cellular neighbourhood. The goal of this work is to identify general principles that govern how different types of microorganisms organize in space, how they interact across different spatial scales and how this spatial self-organization shapes the activities and functions of microbial communities.