Better Together: Engineering and Application of Microbial Symbioses

S. Hays, William Patrick, M. Ziesack, Neri Oxman, P. Silver


Symbioses provide a way to surpass the limitations of individual microbes. Natural communities exemplify this in symbioses like lichens and biofilms that are robust to perturbations, an essential feature in fluctuating environments. Metabolic capabilities also expand in consortia enabling the division of labor across organisms as seen in photosynthetic and methanogenic communities. In engineered consortia, the external environment provides levers of control for microbes repurposed from nature or engineered to interact through synthetic biology. Consortia have successfully been applied to real-world problems including remediation and energy, however there are still fundamental questions to be answered. It is clear that continued study is necessary for the understanding and engineering of microbial systems that are more than the sum of their parts.

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