Genomic Correlates of Microbial Coevolution

Leader: Christian von Mering (IMLS), Partners: Jakob Pernthaler (IPMB), Leo Eberl (IPMB)

Summary and Scientific Questions

Historically, microbes have been viewed as mostly self-contained and independent organisms, capable of diverse metabolic strategies and quick adaptations to environmental conditions. This view is currently being challenged, largely due to the arrival of culture-independent molecular surveys, which begin to hint at intricate ecological dependencies of microbes. Since the vast majority of environmentally occurring microbes cannot be cultivated in the lab, direct experimental observations remain limited, and most ecological insights have to be gained from environmental samplings.

The present sub-project will apply modern, high-throughput molecular techniques as well as meta-analysis and theoretical modeling toward the identification and characterization of ecological partnerships of microbes. We plan to address the following questions: Is community formation in microbes merely a matter of chance or have specific partnerships evolved? Do functional capabilities of microbial lineages complement each other or do they mostly compete? What evolutionary changes will happen as a partnership deepens towards obligate symbiosis? What are the genomic consequences of protracted predator / prey interactions? Can genomic information be employed to computationally predict which lineages are interacting and co-evolving