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Engineering Synthetic Microbial Communities for Biomethane Production

Engineering Synthetic Microbial Communities for Biomethane Production

The Project

Complex microbial communities underlie natural processes such as global chemical cycles and digestion in higher animals, and are routinely exploited for industrial scale synthesis, waste treatment and fermentation. Our basic understanding of the structures, stabilities and functions of such communities is limited, leading to the declaration of their study as the next frontier in microbial ecology, microbiology, and synthetic biology. Focusing on biomethane producing microbial communities (BMCs), we undertook a two-tiered approach of optimising natural communities and designing synthetic communities with a focus on achieving robust, high-yield biomethane production.

This project was funded by BBSRC April 2013 - Nov 2018.

We continue to update this website with any publications or notable impacts resulting from the project.

Key Findings

1. We have shown that Anaerobic digestion (AD)-adapted communities produce more biogas compared to natural, methanogenic communities and that this is underpinned by changes in community composition following adaptation to AD conditions. We demonstrated for the first time the importance of diversity of rare species in the starting inoculum and that AD performance can be enhanced by having a mixed community inocula.

2. We have established minimal methanogenic communities at the lab scale and identified a genetic polymorphism that underpins the required syntrophy.

3. We have developed mathematical models to analyse and predict microbial community dynamics, stability and diversity by taking into account thermodynamic inhibitions.

4. We have developed a metabolic modelling platform to model ecological and evolutionary dynamics in a microbial community, allowing biologically important predictions to be made. This will help us to extend the minimal communities we are creating.


We made a video describing the project and our research on microbial communities found in anaerobic digesters

See also our sister project:
UK AD Microbiome Monitoring Project

Follow on funding:

  1. BBSRC TDRF BB/N023285/1Link opens in a new window: Monitoring UK AD Microbiomes
  2. BBSRC IAA: Bio-Electrical Engineering HubLink opens in a new window
  3. BBSRC BB/T010150/1Link opens in a new window: Understanding the origin and evolution of metabolic interactions using synthetic microbial communities