Synthetic Microbial Communities of Heterotrophs and Phototrophs Facilitate Sustainable Growth

Cristal Zuñiga, Tingting Li, Michael Guarnieri, Jackson Jenkins, Chien-Ting Li, Kerem Bingol, Young-Mo Kim, Michael Betenbaugh, Karsten Zengler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus Citations


Microbial communities comprised of phototrophs and heterotrophs hold great promise for sustainable biotechnology. Successful application of these communities relies on the selection of appropriate partners. Here we construct four community metabolic models to guide strain selection, pairing phototrophic, sucrose-secreting Synechococcus elongatus with heterotrophic Escherichia coli K-12, Escherichia coli W, Yarrowia lipolytica, or Bacillus subtilis. Model simulations reveae metabolic exchanges that sustain the heterotrophs in minimal media devoid of any organic carbon source, pointing to S. elongatus-E. coli K-12 as the most active community. Experimental validation of flux predictions for this pair confirms metabolic interactions and potential production capabilities. Synthetic communities bypass member-specific metabolic bottlenecks (e.g. histidine- and transport-related reactions) and compensate for lethal genetic traits, achieving up to 27% recovery from lethal knockouts. The study provides a robust modelling framework for the rational design of synthetic communities with optimized growth sustainability using phototrophic partners.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberArticle No. 3803
Number of pages13
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-74826


  • bioenergy
  • genomics
  • photobiology
  • synthetic biology


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