Ecological communities by design

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Science  26 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6242, pp. 1425-1427
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0946

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In synthetic ecology, a nascent offshoot of synthetic biology, scientists aim to design and construct microbial communities with desirable properties. Such mixed populations of microorganisms can simultaneously perform otherwise incompatible functions (1). Compared with individual organisms, they can also better resist losses in function as a result of environmental perturbation or invasion by other species (2). Synthetic ecology may thus be a promising approach for developing robust, stable biotechnological processes, such as the conversion of cellulosic biomass to biofuels (3). However, achieving this will require detailed knowledge of the principles that guide the structure and function of microbial communities (see the image).