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Comprehensive Biotechnology
Volume 6, 2019, Pages 42-51

Functional Microbial Landscapes

Davide Ciccarese, David R.Johnson

Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland; and Department of Environmental Microbiology, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), Dübendorf, Switzerland.


Surface-attached microbial communities are omnipresent on our planet. They play an important role in all major biogeochemical processes, provide valuable services to human society and our environment, and are utilized for biotechnological applications. An important feature of surface-attached microbial communities is that different microbial genotypes are typically not distributed randomly in space. Instead, they are typically distributed non-randomly in space and can arrange themselves into fascinating and intriguing patterns (i.e., spatial self-organization). We refer to these non-random patterns of spatial self-organization as microbial landscapes. In this article, we first review the underlying causes of spatial self-organization and the emergence of microbial landscapes. We next describe how the emergence of a microbial landscape can affect the metabolic, ecological, and evolutionary properties and behaviors of microbial communities. We then provide an overview of how to quantitatively analyze microbial landscapes and discuss how such quantitative information can generate insights into the underlying causes and consequences of their emergence. We further discuss how laboratory experiments can inform us about the properties and behaviors of microbial landscapes in nature. Finally, we discuss how we might engineer microbial landscapes to achieve biotechnological objectives.

Keywords: BiofilmsLandscape ecology, Microbial interactions, Range expansion, Spatial self-organization, Synthetic microbial ecology.

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