A Diverse Community To Study Communities: Integration of Experiments and Mathematical Models To Study Microbial Consortia

J Bacteriol. 2017 Jul 11;199(15):e00865-16. doi: 10.1128/JB.00865-16. Print 2017 Aug 1.


The last few years have seen the advancement of high-throughput experimental techniques that have produced an extraordinary amount of data. Bioinformatics and statistical analyses have become instrumental to interpreting the information coming from, e.g., sequencing data and often motivate further targeted experiments. The broad discipline of "computational biology" extends far beyond the well-established field of bioinformatics, but it is our impression that more theoretical methods such as the use of mathematical models are not yet as well integrated into the research studying microbial interactions. The empirical complexity of microbial communities presents challenges that are difficult to address with in vivo/in vitro approaches alone, and with microbiology developing from a qualitative to a quantitative science, we see stronger opportunities arising for interdisciplinary projects integrating theoretical approaches with experiments. Indeed, the addition of in silico experiments, i.e., computational simulations, has a discovery potential that is, unfortunately, still largely underutilized and unrecognized by the scientific community. This minireview provides an overview of mathematical models of natural ecosystems and emphasizes that one critical point in the development of a theoretical description of a microbial community is the choice of problem scale. Since this choice is mostly dictated by the biological question to be addressed, in order to employ theoretical models fully and successfully it is vital to implement an interdisciplinary view at the conceptual stages of the experimental design.

Keywords: interdisciplinary approaches; marine ecosystems; mathematical modeling; microbial communities.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Microbial Consortia / physiology*
  • Microbial Interactions*
  • Models, Theoretical*