Journal Highlight: Microbial Metabolism: Probing A Community's Inner Workings

Mixed microbial communities underpin important biotechnological processes. A detailed knowledge of community structure and function relationships is essential for ultimately driving these systems towards desired outcomes.

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Charting metabolic activity in diverse microbial communities could help scientists control the behavior of these communities, new research shows. Paul Wilmes and colleagues at the University of Luxembourg, alongside scientists from the United States, set out to characterize the biological function of bacterial communities—normally a daunting task due to the sheer number of species involved. To accomplish this, Wilmes and colleagues took a community-wide approach, collecting genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic data from lipid-accumulating microbial consortia in a wastewater treatment tank and assembling functional maps reflecting overall biochemical processes. The scientists were then able to identify ‘keystone’ genes that play a critical role in the community—for example, genes involved in fatty acid biosynthesis were particularly prominent. Such findings could guide strategies for manipulating microbial communities for optimized disease control or biofuel production in future.

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Richa Dandona

Partnerships and Operations Manager, Nature Partner Journals, Nature Research