E. co-light : Dynamic Optogenetic Control of Co-cultures

Microorganisms exist in complex and diverse communities. This enables a variety of important interactions including co-metabolism and nutrient cycling. Yet, it can be difficult to culture species together in a laboratory setting. Mixed populations are difficult to maintain primarily due to competition: a difference in growth rates often results in one population outcompeting another. Our team aims to dynamically control E. coli growth by using optogenetics (light-induced gene expression) to regulate the production of MetE, an enzyme essential for bacterial growth. This kind of control could help us overcome a major barrier to maintaining co-cultures: competition between microorganisms.

This would open several doors in biotech and research. For instance, metabolic engineering of microbial communities may improve the production of pharmaceuticals, biofuels, and other important materials. Moreover, controllable co-cultures would allow researchers to explore complex interactions between microbes and investigate questions that could not previously be answered due to co-culturing limitations.

Video Transcript