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Cooperation in microbial communities and their biotechnological applications

Cavaliere, M and Feng, S and Soyer, OS and Jiménez, JI (2017) Cooperation in microbial communities and their biotechnological applications. Environmental Microbiology, 19 (8). pp. 2949-2963. ISSN 1462-2912

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Abstract

Microbial communities are increasingly utilized in biotechnology. Efficiency and productivity in many of these applications depends on the presence of cooperative interactions between members of the community. Two key processes underlying these interactions are the production of public goods and metabolic cross-feeding, which can be understood in the general framework of ecological and evolutionary (eco-evo) dynamics. In this review, we illustrate the relevance of cooperative interactions in microbial biotechnological processes, discuss their mechanistic origins and analyse their evolutionary resilience. Cooperative behaviours can be damaged by the emergence of ‘cheating’ cells that benefit from the cooperative interactions but do not contribute to them. Despite this, cooperative interactions can be stabilized by spatial segregation, by the presence of feedbacks between the evolutionary dynamics and the ecology of the community, by the role of regulatory systems coupled to the environmental conditions and by the action of horizontal gene transfer. Cooperative interactions enrich microbial communities with a higher degree of robustness against environmental stress and can facilitate the evolution of more complex traits. Therefore, the evolutionary resilience of microbial communities and their ability to constraint detrimental mutants should be considered to design robust biotechnological applications.

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