Microbial communities play key roles in medicine and agriculture, yet we are only beginning to exploit the potential applications associated with them. Our group aims to develop a predictive understanding of microbial community assembly and function in order to enable the management of natural communities, and the design of novel beneficial communities.
Natural communities are typically comprised of numerous interacting species. It is still unclear to what extent can we predict the properties of such complex, multispecies communities. We have found the survival in pairwise competitions is surprisingly predictive of survival when bacterial species are competed with a larger number of species (Friedman et al, Nature Ecol & Evol (2017)). We are working to extend these results to realistic conditions, including host-associated and spatially structured communities.
How predictable is the structure and function of microbial communities?
How does the abiotic environment modulate interspecies interactions?
The abiotic environment has a crucial effect of interspecies interactions - species that compete in one environment may cooperate in another. How common are such major shifts? Are there environmental conditions that consistently promote or hinder cooperation? To address these questions we are using nanodroplet technology, developed at the Blainey lab, which enables conducting large-scale screens of hundreds of microbial interactions across dozens of environments.
How do interactions evolve within a microbial community?
While in nature species evolve within diverse communities, the evolutionary process has mostly been investigated in the context of single species. Evolution may differ greatly between clonal populations and communities. First due to the fact that individuals encounter different selective pressures in these scenarios. Additionally, novel genetic material may be available within a community, enabling adaptation via horizontal gene transfer. A major aim of the group is to understand how these factors affect evolutionary dynamics within a community, with a particular focus on interspecies interactions .