Engineering microbial conversations through syntropy

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Stephanie Hays, Daniel Ducat, Jeffery Way, Pam Silver

Harvard Systems Biology, United States

In nature, microbes are constantly communicating. This allows for cooperative feats such as Vibrio fischeri’s coordinated illumination of sea-faring eukaryotic hosts, and the formation of bacterial communities in biofilms. Many such inter-species microbial conversations are mediated by metabolic cross-feeding though the evolution of these relationships is poorly understood and the engineering of them in controlled systems is infrequent. In order to investigate these interactions, this work proposes a synthetic metabolic syntrophy between cyanobacteria, Synechococcus elongatus, and heterotrophs commonly used in metabolic engineering applications. This syntrophy is established through sucrose export by engineered indole-auxotroph cyanobacteria coupled with indole export by a partner heterotroph, either Saccharomyces cerevisiae or Escherichia coli. Such a consortia would harness the power of photosynthesis and remove the need for feedstocks derived from potential food sources separating food and commodity markets. This system shows commercial promise while also allowing for insight into biological questions about growth dynamics, basic science, game theory and evolution.