Reconciling ecological and engineering design principles for building microbiomes
AuthorBernstein, Hans Christopher
Simplified microbial communities, or “benchtop microbiomes,” enable us to manage the profound complexity of microbial ecosystems. Widespread activities aiming to design and control communities result in novel resources for testing ecological theories and also for realizing new biotechnologies. There is much to be gained by reconciling engineering design principles with ecological processes that shape microbiomes in nature. In this short Perspective, I will address how natural processes such as environmental filtering, the establishment of priority effects, and community “blending” (coalescence) can be harnessed for engineering microbiomes from complex starting materials. I will also discuss how future microbiome architects may draw inspiration from modern practices in synthetic biology. This topic is based on an important overarching research goal, which is to understand how natural forces shape microbial communities and interspecies interactions such that new engineering design principles can be extracted to promote human health or energy and environmental sustainability.