Self-sustaining closed microbial communities are milliliter scale consortia of microbes that persist indefinitely when provided with only light. These remarkable communities persist by robustly cycling nutrients and provide model systems for understanding how ecosystem function (nutrient cycling) emerges from structure and energy flow (light). Using these communities we are asking:
(1) What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for microbial life to persist?
(2) How does the structure (taxonomic, metagenomic), and function (nutrient cycling) of a microbial community depend on driving energy available to the ecosystem?
We previously showed that a three species closed ecosystem (algae-bacteria-ciliate) exhibits highly deterministic population dynamics on timescales of months and that higher order interactions can dominate dynamics in these communities.
We have now developed a suite of new measurements of metabolic function in these closed ecosystems that allow us to directly interrogate nutrient cycling capabilities in real-time non-invasively. Using these methods we are addressing the structure-function question in self-sustaining closed ecosystems.