This research aims to develop an integrated analysis of energy flow in complex microbial communities. We are combining biogeochemical, stable isotope probing, metatranscriptomic and computational approaches, to understand nutrient cycling and biofuel (H2) production production in complex microbial communities. A comprehensive understanding of such communities is needed to develop efficient, industrial-scale processes for microbial H2 production and lignocellulose degradation.
Experimentally, the focus is on natural models for H2 production and degradation of plant/microbial biomass. At LBNL, the focus is specifically on insect hindgut communities—using a combination of stable isotope probing, in situ physicochemical characterization with microelectrodes, ‘omic analyses of microbial functional potential and expression, and spectroscopic measurement of substrate transformations to provide a comprehensive picture of C and N flows in the hindgut microbiome of passalid beetles. Our ultimate goal is the development of multiscale models that can predict ecological and biochemical relationships within multi-trophic microbial systems.
Our work includes both technique development and biological research components. Although our immediate focus is on biofuel-relevant research, the interdisciplinary approach we are developing will be generally useful for studying other systems of interest to the Genomic Science program and the broader biological research community.
(This project is a collaboration with Jennifer Pett-Ridge of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)