Skip to main content

Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Where Science Meets Society

The distance of microbial competitions shapes their community structures

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.

Classifying microbes differently leads to discovery  

Changing the way microbes are classified can reveal similarities among mammals’ gut microbiomes, according to a new study.

The study, published in mBio, proposed an alternative method for classifying microbes that provides insight into human and environmental health.  

James O’Dwyer, an associate professor of plant biology and member of the IGB's Biocomplexity research theme, is a co-author of the study, which was funded by the NSF.

Microbes Scared to Death by Virus Presence

The microbes could surrender to the harmless virus, but instead freeze in place, dormant, waiting for their potential predator to go away, according to a recent study in mBio.

University of Illinois researchers found that Sulfolobus islandicus can go dormant, ceasing to grow and reproduce, in order to protect themselves from infection by Sulfolobus spindle-shaped virus 9 (SSV9). The dormant microbes are able to recover if the virus goes away within 24 to 48 hours—otherwise they die.

Oil- and metal-munching microbes dominate deep sandstone formations

Oil- and metal-munching microbes dominate deep sandstone formations

Halomonas are a hardy breed of bacteria. They can withstand heat, high salinity, low oxygen, utter darkness and pressures that would kill most other organisms. These traits enable these microbes to eke out a living in deep sandstone formations that also happen to be useful for hydrocarbon extraction and carbon sequestration, researchers report in a new study.

Team discovers microbes speciating

Not that long ago in a hot spring in Kamchatka, Russia, two groups of genetically indistinguishable microbes parted ways. They began evolving into different species – despite the fact that they still encountered one another in their acidic, boiling habitat and even exchanged some genes from time to time, researchers report. This is the first example of what the researchers call sympatric speciation in a microorganism.

Researchers Map Minority Microbes in the Colon

They make up less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the microbes that live in the colon, but the bacteria and archaea that sop up hydrogen in the gut are fundamental to colon health. In a new study, researchers take a first up close look at these “hydrogenotrophic” microbes, mapping where they live and how abundant they are in different parts of the lower intestine.

The findings are reported in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal.

Subscribe to Microbes