Environmental Stimuli Drive a Transition from Cooperation to Competition in Synthetic Phototrophic Communities

Michael Guarnieri, Cristal Zuniga, Chien-Ting Li, Geng Yu, Mahmoud Al-Bassam, Tingting Li, Liqun Jiang, Livia Zaramela, Michael Betenbaugh, Karsten Zengler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus Citations


Phototrophic communities of photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria and heterotrophic bacteria or fungi are pervasive throughout the environment1. How interactions between members contribute to the resilience and affect the fitness of phototrophic communities is not fully understood2,3. Here, we integrated metatranscriptomics, metabolomics and phenotyping with computational modelling to reveal condition-dependent secretion and cross-feeding of metabolites in a synthetic community. We discovered that interactions between members are highly dynamic and are driven by the availability of organic and inorganic nutrients. Environmental factors, such as ammonia concentration, influenced community stability by shifting members from collaborating to competing. Furthermore, overall fitness was dependent on genotype and streamlined genomes improved growth of the entire community. Our mechanistic framework provides insights into the physiology and metabolic response to environmental and genetic perturbation of these ubiquitous microbial associations.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2184-2191
Number of pages8
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-74455


  • bioenergy
  • industrial biotechnology


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