Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Microbial Communities for Health and Environment : Precise Measurements of Microbial Ecosystems

26.11.2014

The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) has succeeded for the first time in describing the complex relationships within an ecosystem in unprecedented detail. For their work, carried out in collaboration with US and Luxembourg partners, their model ecosystem was a “biological wastewater treatment plant”. In it live numerous species of bacteria which are involved in the wastewater purification process. The researchers publish their results today in the journal “Nature Communications”.

LCSB director Prof. Dr. Rudi Balling stresses the medical importance of these research efforts: “Bacterial ecosystems also play a major role in our health. We now have a better understanding of the laws governing their function.”


The LCSB researchers analyzed the genetic material of the different bacteria living in waste water treatment plant. (c) University of Luxembourg - LCSB

With their findings, the LCSB group of Prof. Dr. Paul Wilmes, head of the LCSB group “Ecosystems Biology” and ATTRACT-fellow of the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR), corroborate and unify various ecological concepts that have been primarily formulated based on observations in macrobiotic systems such as forests, rivers and oceans – which cannot however be experimentally investigated in depth because of the sheer size of these biotopes.

For their analyses of the treatment plant ecosystem, the researchers employed Systems Biology methods. Wastewater destined for treatment comprises energy-rich substrates including fats, proteins, carbohydrates and many other substances that serve as nutrients for the resident bacteria. Every wastewater treatment plant is therefore a complex ecosystem. Countless bacterial species adapt to the living conditions in the water, compete for resources and each find a niche in which they can best survive.

“The techniques developed at LCSB allow us now to unravel these processes very precisely at the molecular level,” says Dr. Emilie Muller, first author of the publication. The basis for this are the so-called “omics” – genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics – combined with new bioinformatic methods for integrated data analysis.

“With these, we can determine from samples which organisms are living in the treatment plant, and what their population sizes, genetic make-up, activities and material turnovers are like. Therefore, there is no longer any need to study bacteria separately in pure cultures,” Muller explains: “Based on this, we can ultimately model the material flows in the ‘treatment plant’ ecosystem and describe, for example, which bacterial species will use and consume which substrate and to what degree.”

Yet Emilie Muller wants to go further than simply modelling the wastewater treatment plant ecology: “We want to understand what factors determine the species composition and accordingly the balance in the ecosystem.” In this context, there is one species of bacteria that stands out and has grabbed the researchers’ attention: Microthrix parvicella, whose genome sequence the LCSB group first decrypted two years ago. This bacterium can absorb and store an especially large amount of lipids.

In winter, up to 50 percent of all bacteria on the surface of treatment tanks belong to this species. Emilie Muller continues: “That is rather astonishing, given that the amount of lipids in the wastewater is rather low in winter, and Microthrix actually has unfavourable living conditions during that season.” In their studies, Muller and colleagues then discovered that Microthrix possesses twenty-eight copies of the gene that is chiefly responsible for lipid uptake. “However, there are only ever a few of these homologous genes active at a given time and this fine-tuning is responsible for Microthrix’ ecological success,” Muller adds.

Paul Wilmes gives an interpretation of these facts: “Microthrix is what ecologists call a generalist. The organism can adapt to very many living conditions and thereby dominate the highly fluctuating wastewater treatment plant ecosystem.” This is helped, among other things, by the 28 genes for lipid uptake, Wilmes continues: “Each copy of the gene is a little different from the others. If the living conditions change, say when the temperature drops or the lipid composition changes, then a different lipid uptake gene adapted to that condition sets in. That way, Microthrix can survive in many different environments.” Wilmes’ aim is to boost the activity of Microthrix to remove as many lipids from the wastewater as possible. “The lipids from wastewater stored in the bacteria are a renewable energy source since they can be easily converted into biodiesel, for example.”

LCSB director Prof. Dr. Rudi Balling recognizes in ecosystems research an important basis for medical issues: “Paul Wilmes and his group have here corroborated fundamental concepts of ecology with comprehensive numerical data for the first time. This is important because our health is greatly determined by bacterial ecosystems like those in the gut or on the skin. When these fragile equilibriums are thrown out of balance, it can cause illnesses. We assume this is even the case for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. With the work from our Eco-Systems Biology group, we have come a long way towards understanding these systems – and actually being able to use that knowledge one day in medicine.”

The work was primarily supported by the ATTRACT and AFR fellowship schemes of the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR). The project also received financial support from the Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg (IBBL) with funds from the Luxembourg Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

The University of Luxembourg, founded in 2003, is a multilingual, international research university with 6200 students and staff from all over the globe. Its research focuses on computational sciences, law and especially European law, finance, educational sciences as well as interdisciplinary research conducted by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) and the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB).
www.uni.lu

Notes to editors

Full bibliographic information: Emilie E. L. Muller, Nicolas Pinel, Cedric C. Laczny, Michael R. Hoopmann, Shaman Narayanasamy, Laura A. Lebrun, Hugo Roume, Jake Lin, Patrick May, Nathan D. Hicks, Anna Heintz-Buschart, Linda Wampach, Cindy M. Liu, Lance B. Price, John D. Gillece, Cedric Guignard, James M. Schupp, Nikos Vlassis, Nitin S. Baliga, Robert L. Moritz, Paul S. Keim & Paul Wilmes: Community-integrated omics links dominance of a microbial generalist to fine-tuned resource usage.
NATURE COMMUNICATIONS | 5:5603 | DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6603 |www.nature.com/naturecommunications. Nov 2014.


Weitere Informationen:

http://wwwen.uni.lu/lcsb  - LCSB: Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine

Sophie Kolb | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds
26.05.2017 | Cornell University

nachricht How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system
26.05.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>