Noor-Ul- Huda Ghori
Thesis: Investigating Interactions within Microbial Communities in an Extreme Environment
Microbial populations are rarely seen in isolation as they exist and function in concert in integrative and interactive units known as microbial communities. The individual populations within these communities communicate with each other through unidirectional or complex exchange of biochemical cues. These relationships can be positive (cooperative), negative (non-cooperative) or neutral. These intricate relationships can play a crucial part in shaping the community assembly and ecosystem processes in extreme environments. So far, studies on social interactions of microbes are limited to reductionist strategies and very little is known about how microbial populations interact to sustain biogeochemical cycles, particularly in acid saline lakes. The acid saline lakes of southern Western Australia offer a diverse population of understudied extremophiles belonging to halotolerant, acidophilic and halophilic species. These lakes are reservoirs of archaea, bacteria and viruses, interacting to cycle key biogeochemical elements (e.g. Sulphur) under these poly-extremophillic conditions. Research upon the interactions between key community members in these ecosystems will ultimately enhance our understanding of the requirements to survive in extreme environments, the ecological interactions which bring about key extremophile biogeochemical processes and eventually the mechanistic understanding needed to engineer these communities synthetically for enhanced bioprocess strategies in fields such as biogeochemical based energy generation.
The main aim of this research is to deconstruct a simplified, but extreme environment to characterise the major cross-kingdom interaction which modulate key extremophile biogeochemical cycles.
This multidisciplinary study will utilise;
1.) Culture dependent and independent techniques to characterise community composition.
2.) Using knowledge of community members and processes derived in 1) to direct isolation of key members and reassemble these isolates in defined synthetic communities to tease out the specific interactions that impact a specific biogeochemical processes, e.gs carbon and sulphur cycling, in the acid saline lake ecosystem.
Why my research is important
Co-culturing experiments of microorganisms creates an artificial community in a controlled environment and provides ideal conditions to articulate the concepts of community stability and dynamics associated with the cooperative and non-cooperative interactions of its inhabitants. The results of this study will be a key to strategies for manipulating microbial communities having medical, agriculture, industrial and environmental applications. The study will also help in identification of key parameters and interactions that represent architectures of extremophiles living at the limits of life.