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MBio. 2010 Oct 5;1(4). pii: e00169-10. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00169-10.

Functional molecular ecological networks.

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  • 1Institute for Environmental Genomics, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA.


Biodiversity and its responses to environmental changes are central issues in ecology and for society. Almost all microbial biodiversity research focuses on "species" richness and abundance but not on their interactions. Although a network approach is powerful in describing ecological interactions among species, defining the network structure in a microbial community is a great challenge. Also, although the stimulating effects of elevated CO(2) (eCO(2)) on plant growth and primary productivity are well established, its influences on belowground microbial communities, especially microbial interactions, are poorly understood. Here, a random matrix theory (RMT)-based conceptual framework for identifying functional molecular ecological networks was developed with the high-throughput functional gene array hybridization data of soil microbial communities in a long-term grassland FACE (free air, CO(2) enrichment) experiment. Our results indicate that RMT is powerful in identifying functional molecular ecological networks in microbial communities. Both functional molecular ecological networks under eCO(2) and ambient CO(2) (aCO(2)) possessed the general characteristics of complex systems such as scale free, small world, modular, and hierarchical. However, the topological structures of the functional molecular ecological networks are distinctly different between eCO(2) and aCO(2), at the levels of the entire communities, individual functional gene categories/groups, and functional genes/sequences, suggesting that eCO(2) dramatically altered the network interactions among different microbial functional genes/populations. Such a shift in network structure is also significantly correlated with soil geochemical variables. In short, elucidating network interactions in microbial communities and their responses to environmental changes is fundamentally important for research in microbial ecology, systems microbiology, and global change.

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