My work centers on understanding microbial interactions through a focus on the underlying biophysical processes, from the transport of nutrients to the motility of cells to the role of ambient flow. In my group, we often accomplish this through a single-cell approach, using microfluidic technology to expose cells to controlled environments, real-time microscopy to visualize dynamic processes, and image analysis to extract quantitative information on microbial behaviors and interactions.
We complement experiments through mathematical models, ranging from the single-cell level to the water column, with the aim of better understanding and ultimately scaling up microscale interactions. We will use these approaches to investigate how symbiotic microorganisms in the ocean find each other, remain associated in symbiosis and exchange nutrients.
The system we focus on to study symbiotic interactions in the ocean – phytoplankton and heterotrophic bacteria – encompasses two of the major players in the biogeochemistry and food webs of the oceans. Phytoplankton produce the organic matter that ultimately sustains a vast range of marine organisms, while heterotrophic bacteria are some of the main consumers of this organic matter. How the two interact is of fundamental importance for the cycling of carbon and other elements. Furthermore, we envisage that many of the fundamental biophysical processes that occur in phytoplankton-bacteria interactions can serve as blueprints for similar processes occurring in other symbiotic interactions that involve microorganisms.
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Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems
ETH Zurich Foundation