Developing theory on the formation, composition and structure of open microbial communities that can be used in engineering design

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Engineering


Large multi-species communities of microbes are exploited in a wide range of long-established and newly emerging technologies, such as wastewater treatment, bioremediation and electricity generation from wastewater using microbial fuel cells. However, the coming together, or assembly, of large communities in natural environments and the fluctuations in their composition and structure, once assembled, is still poorly understood. The remarkable success of some of the more established technologies, such as wastewater treatment, can largely be attributed to the wealth of empirical knowledge that has been built up through many years of research and application. However, such a climate of empirically based technological evolution, makes difficult the translation of any insights from similar strategies in different environments. Furthermore, industry's adoption of new technologies is slowed by our inability to quantify both the common and key processes in microbial community assembly and the relationships between community composition, structure and function. Therefore, satisfactory mathematical descriptions of the microbial world are now the bottleneck in successfully engineering microbiological systems. A theoretical basis for predicting and manipulating microbial community composition and structure will have a wide application: setting established practices on a new theoretical foundation; quantifying the risk in emerging environmental biotechnologies; and potentially opening up whole new technologies. The research proposed in this Advanced Fellowship application aims to build upon previous successes in modelling microbial community assembly and develop further quantitative, testable theories for the microbiology of biological waste treatment systems.


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Description The immigration of new bacterial species into a wastewater treatment plant is extremely low. This means that once established it is very difficult to change microbial communities in these economically and environmentally important bioreactors. Indeed, evolution may be more important than immigration of bioaumentation in effecting change.
Exploitation Route It will focus research on the inital startup period of environemntal bioreactors.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment

Description EPSRC
Amount £182,308 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/F007868/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2008 
End 03/2013