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Synthetic microbial consortia can be engineered for enhanced biomass productivity


Hans Bernstein has made remarkable contributions towards understanding oxygen flux to microbial communities and testing key tenants in microbial interaction theory using a co-culture of different Escherichia coli strains, as well as natural thermophilic communities from Yellowstone National Park. Specifically, Dr. Bernstein (recently graduated, May, 2013) has documented that different strains of E. coli will collaborate in a biochemical context to result in greater overall productivity per unit mole of oxygen or carbon substrate. The ’emergent’ properties of microbial communities, which contain interacting partners, is an important concept in ecological resilience and resistance, as wel

l as for understanding the very factors that control microbial evolution. Mr. Bernstein won a poster award at the ISME Conference (Copenhagen) judged by a panel of independent scientists and peers representing the international community (Figure 1). This speaks to the quality of the research conducted in concert with other MSU IGERT faculty (Dr. Ross Carlson) and to the professionalism Hans Bernstein brings to his work. Hans also published a detailed mathematical description of oxygen profiles into geothermal Fe-oxide microbial mats determined using oxygen micro-electrodes, and documented the importance of oxygen gradients in establishing microbial community structure and function. His productivity in 2012-2013 was phenomenal and we regard Hans as one of our most successful interdisciplinary researchers in microbiological systems science. His exciting Ph.D. research results and overall productivity lead to a prestigious offer from the DOE-Office of Science to join their group as a postdoctoral scientist.

Address Goals

Basic research in metabolic engineering and biochemical modeling provides a foundation for potential industrial applications, and reveals basic tenants in microbial community ecology. This work represents synthesis among the fields of molecular biology, aqueous geochemistry, environmental microbiology, chemical engineering and mathematics. In this regard, Hans Bernstein’s research on synthetic consortia and the importance of oxygen flux to microbial communities addresses key goals to be a national leader in transformative science and engineering. Secondarily, our goals to build a more integrative and diverse workforce is enhanced by successful projects completed by Dr. Bernstein. Not only has this knowledge and experience formed the basis for other work remaining at MSU, Hans will interact with and train new people in his continuing professional career, and his view of what is possible in science and engineering has been cultivated extremely well in our IGERT Program.