Even bacteria found in small numbers in freshwater communities play an essential role in maintaining the ecosystem and responding to environmental changes, according to new work from researchers in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. This “rare biosphere,” as they called it, carries important genes for breaking down organic pollutants, which can help the entire microbial community withstand environmental changes. Their study appeared March 3 in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
When Joe Brown went to India last summer, he was hoping to collect samples that could help answer some questions he’d been thinking about for a while. His years studying sanitation and global health had given him the idea that the open sewers and overflowing latrines common in the dense cities of the developing world could be linked with disease through an unusual mechanism: airborne transmission of pathogens.
A new testing methodology based on metagenomics could accelerate the diagnosis of foodborne bacterial outbreaks, allowing public health officials to identify the microbial culprits in less than a day. The methodology could also identify co-infections with secondary microbes, determine the specific variant of the pathogen, and help alert health officials to the presence of new or unusual pathogens.
Development of a dynamic model for microbial populations in healthy lakes could help scientists understand what’s wrong with sick lakes, prescribe cures and predict what may happen as environmental conditions change. Those are among the benefits expected from an ambitious project to model the interactions of some 18,000 species in a well-studied Wisconsin lake.
Fourth-year graduate student Christine Dykstra joined 19 other women from around the country at a small gathering last week for early career engineers planning to enter academia. The Rising Stars Workshop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is designed to foster scientific conversation between the next generation of civil and environmental engineering faculty members and help them build their careers.
When oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill first began washing ashore on Pensacola Municipal Beach in June 2010, populations of sensitive microorganisms, including those that capture sunlight or fix nitrogen from the air, began to decline. At the same time, organisms able to digest light components of the oil began to multiply, starting the process of converting the pollutant to carbon dioxide and biomass.
<p>Microbes of interest to clinicians and environmental scientists rarely exist in isolation. Organisms essential to breaking down pollutants or causing illness live in complex communities, and separating one microbe from hundreds of companion species can be challenging for researchers seeking to understand environmental issues or disease processes. A new National Science Foundation-supported project will provide computational tools designed to help identify and characterize the gene diversity of the residents of these microbial communities.</p>