Genome-Enabled Modeling of Biogeochemical Processes Predicts Metabolic Dependencies that Connect the Relative Fitness of Microbial Functional Guilds
Abstract:Pore-scale processes mediated by microorganisms underlie a range of critical ecosystem services, regulating carbon stability, nutrient flux, and the purification of water. Advances in cultivation-independent approaches now provide us with the ability to reconstruct thousands of genomes from microbial populations from which functional roles may be assigned. With this capability to reveal microbial metabolic potential, the next step is to put these microbes back where they belong to interact with their natural environment, i.e. the pore scale. At this scale, microorganisms communicate, cooperate and compete across their fitness landscapes with communities emerging that feedback on the physical and chemical properties of their environment, ultimately altering the fitness landscape and selecting for new microbial communities with new properties and so on.
We have developed a trait-based model of microbial activity that simulates coupled functional guilds that are parameterized with unique combinations of traits that govern fitness under dynamic conditions. Using a reactive transport framework, we simulate the thermodynamics of coupled electron donor-acceptor reactions to predict energy available for cellular maintenance, respiration, biomass development, and enzyme production. From metagenomics, we directly estimate some trait values related to growth and identify the linkage of key traits associated with respiration and fermentation, macromolecule depolymerizing enzymes, and other key functions such as nitrogen fixation. Our simulations were carried out to explore abiotic controls on community emergence such as seasonally fluctuating water table regimes across floodplain organic matter hotspots. Simulations and metagenomic/metatranscriptomic observations highlighted the many dependencies connecting the relative fitness of functional guilds and the importance of chemolithoautotrophic lifestyles. Using an X-Ray microCT-derived soil microaggregate physical model combined with genome-enabled reactive flow and transport we simulated the importance of pore network properties including connectivity in regulating metabolic interdependencies between microbial functional guilds.