Investigating the Dynamics of Microbial Consortia in Spatially Structured Environments

Gupta, S. - Presenter, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Gomez, M. M., UC Santa Cruz
Romero, P. A., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Venturelli, O. S., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Microbial communities are diverse networks of microorganisms that exhibit spatial organization on multiple length scales due to a complex interplay between microbial interactions and interactions with the environment. Spatial structuring of microbial communities has a major impact on system behaviors and responses to environmental perturbations. We designed a microfluidic platform, MISTiC (Mapping Interactions across Space and Time in Communities), to investigate how the spatial arrangement of microbes influences interaction networks and responses to temporally changing environmental stimuli using a combination of time-lapse microscopy and computational modeling. We demonstrate a mapping between spatial positioning and gene expression, and identify key biochemical parameters that determine the sensitivity of microbial interactions to spatial patterning. Our results show that distance establishes a low-pass filter that preserves signals that operate on longer timescales and enhances the fidelity of information transmission. We found that metabolic interactions are highly sensitive to spatial arrangements and resource availability, and can also change over time. In sum, we developed MISTiC to investigate how spatial positioning, temporal perturbations, and environmental factors shape microbial community behaviors. Our findings suggest generalizable principles that could be exploited to program the spatiotemporal behaviors of microbial consortia.