Scientific and public appreciation for microbes—and the key role their communal actions play in environmental health, food production, and human wellness—has grown in recent years. While initially considered to be static, uniform entities, microbial communities are highly complex and contain internal chemical swapfests that are in constant flux.
Inside the microbial communities that populate our world, microbes are fighting for their lives.
These tiny organisms are in the soil, in the oceans, and in the human body. Microbes play several important roles – they can decompose waste, make oxygen and promote human health.
Within communities, microbes constantly compete with each other for space, nutrients and other resources. Their competitions can occur across multiple spatial scales, whether the microbes are close together or far apart.
Much like human society, microbial communities have a division of labor. In these complex groups of microorganisms, different microbes are responsible for different tasks, such as the organization or delivery of cell functions.
How did the zebra get its stripes, or the leopard its spots? Mankind has been trying to answer such questions since our earliest recorded days, and they resonate throughout the extant mythologies and folklores of an earlier world. In modern times, we've looked to mathematical models and most recently to genomic science to uncover the explanation of how patterns form in living tissues, but a full answer has proven particularly hard to get at.
Over the last 17 years, scientists and engineers have developed synthetic gene circuits that can program the functionality, performance, and behavior of living cells. Analogous to integrated circuits that underlie myriad electronic products, engineered gene circuits can be used to generate defined dynamics, rewire endogenous networks, sense environmental stimuli, and produce valuable biomolecules.
These gene circuits hold great promise in medical and biotechnological applications, such as combating super bugs, producing advanced biofuels, and manufacturing functional materials.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have, for the first time, uncovered the complex interdependence and orchestration of metabolic reactions, gene regulation, and environmental cues of clostridial metabolism, providing new insights for advanced biofuel development.