Integrative Dissection of Bacterial Community Assembly
Bacteria are single-celled organisms but known to form complex communities in space. Understanding how they assemble is fundamentally important, as the vital impacts of bacteria to the environment, agriculture as well as human health are all achieved through the form of communities. Despite significant advances over past decades, our understanding about bacterial communities remains limited, largely due to their intrinsic complex-system nature that integrates cellular processes across multiple scales.
Professor Lu’s research program aims to discover the fundamental design principles of bacterial communities by systematically dissecting and modeling the multiscale link among intracellular gene regulation, intercellular social interactions, and spatiotemporal dynamics of populations. To achieve this goal, a multidisciplinary approach combining mathematical modeling with experimentation will be used in order to accomplish the following three aims: (1) specifying how the architecture of molecular networks controls the mode of interaction and hence community organization; (2) quantifying how noise at the molecular level propagates to cellular interactions and further causes variability in community structure; and (3) determining how the metabolic cost of cellular interactions alters the outcome of community structure.
The proposed research promises an integrated understanding of the structure, dynamics, and function of bacterial communities, thus providing new insights into microbial ecology and sociology. It may also yield new strategies for engineering synthetic consortia. More broadly, due to the intrinsic complexity of bacterial communities, the work will also deepen our fundamental understanding of complex systems sciences.