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Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal
Volume 19, 2021, Pages 3892-3907

Modelling microbial communities: Harnessing consortia for biotechnological applications

Maziya Ibrahima,b,c,1, Lavanya Raajaraama,b,c,1, Karthik Ramana,b,c

Bhupat and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences, Department of Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, Chennai 600 036, India.


Microbes propagate and thrive in complex communities, and there are many benefits to studying and engineering microbial communities instead of single strains. Microbial communities are being increasingly leveraged in biotechnological applications, as they present significant advantages such as the division of labour and improved substrate utilisation. Nevertheless, they also present some interesting challenges to surmount for the design of efficient biotechnological processes. In this review, we discuss key principles of microbial interactions, followed by a deep dive into genome-scale metabolic models, focussing on a vast repertoire of constraint-based modelling methods that enable us to characterise and understand the metabolic capabilities of microbial communities. Complementary approaches to model microbial communities, such as those based on graph theory, are also briefly discussed. Taken together, these methods provide rich insights into the interactions between microbes and how they influence microbial community productivity. We finally overview approaches that allow us to generate and test numerous synthetic community compositions, followed by tools and methodologies that can predict effective genetic interventions to further improve the productivity of communities. With impending advancements in high-throughput omics of microbial communities, the stage is set for the rapid expansion of microbial community engineering, with a significant impact on biotechnological processes.

Keywords: Metabolic modelling, Genome-scale models, Metabolic engineering, Constraint-based modelling, Microbiome, Microbial consortia.

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