Send to

Choose Destination
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 25;105(47):18188-93. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0807935105. Epub 2008 Nov 14.

Defined spatial structure stabilizes a synthetic multispecies bacterial community.

Author information

Department of Chemistry and Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


This paper shows that for microbial communities, "fences make good neighbors." Communities of soil microorganisms perform critical functions: controlling climate, enhancing crop production, and remediation of environmental contamination. Microbial communities in the oral cavity and the gut are of high biomedical interest. Understanding and harnessing the function of these communities is difficult: artificial microbial communities in the laboratory become unstable because of "winner-takes-all" competition among species. We constructed a community of three different species of wild-type soil bacteria with syntrophic interactions using a microfluidic device to control spatial structure and chemical communication. We found that defined microscale spatial structure is both necessary and sufficient for the stable coexistence of interacting bacterial species in the synthetic community. A mathematical model describes how spatial structure can balance the competition and positive interactions within the community, even when the rates of production and consumption of nutrients by species are mismatched, by exploiting nonlinearities of these processes. These findings provide experimental and modeling evidence for a class of communities that require microscale spatial structure for stability, and these results predict that controlling spatial structure may enable harnessing the function of natural and synthetic multispecies communities in the laboratory.

Comment in

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center