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Published November 25, 2008 | Supplemental Material + Published
Journal Article Open

Defined spatial structure stabilizes a synthetic multispecies bacterial community


This paper shows that for microbial communities, ''fences make good neighbors.'' Communities of soil microorganisms perform critical functions: controlling climate, enhancing crop production, and remediation of environmental contamination. Microbial communities in the oral cavity and the gut are of high biomedical interest. Understanding and harnessing the function of these communities is difficult: artificial microbial communities in the laboratory become unstable because of ''winner-takes-all'' competition among species. We constructed a community of three different species of wild-type soil bacteria with syntrophic interactions using a microfluidic device to control spatial structure and chemical communication. We found that defined microscale spatial structure is both necessary and sufficient for the stable coexistence of interacting bacterial species in the synthetic community. A mathematical model describes how spatial structure can balance the competition and positive interactions within the community, even when the rates of production and consumption of nutrients by species are mismatched, by exploiting nonlinearities of these processes. These findings provide experimental and modeling evidence for a class of communities that require microscale spatial structure for stability, and these results predict that controlling spatial structure may enable harnessing the function of natural and synthetic multispecies communities in the laboratory.

Additional Information

© 2008 National Academy of Sciences. H.J.K. and J.Q.B. contributed equally to this work. (received for review September 9, 2008). Published online before print November 14, 2008. We thank Elizabeth W. Boyd and Jessica M. Price for assistance with writing and editing this paper. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award 1DP1OD003584 to R.F.I., the Leo P. Kadanoff and Stuart A. Rice Fellowship from the Chicago Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (Chicago MRSEC) to H.J.K., and the Yen Fellowship to J.W.C. Some of this work was performed at the Chicago MRSEC microfluidic facility (funded by the National Science Foundation). Author contributions: H.J.K., J.Q.B., and R.F.I. designed research; H.J.K., J.Q.B., and J.W.C. performed research; H.J.K., J.Q.B., and R.F.I. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; H.J.K. and J.Q.B. analyzed data; and H.J.K., J.Q.B., and R.F.I. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

Attached Files

Published - Ismagilov_Bacterial_community_PNAS_2008_105_18188_HJK.pdf

Supplemental Material - Ismagilov_PNAS_2008_bacteria_communuities_HJK_JB_Supp_Info.pdf



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