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Journal Article

Synthetic symbiosis under environmental disturbances


Gokhale,  Chaitanya S.
Research Group Theoretical Models of Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics, Department Evolutionary Theory, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Denton, J. A., & Gokhale, C. S. (2020). Synthetic symbiosis under environmental disturbances. mSystems, 5(3): 00187-20. doi:10.1101/395426.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-721E-C
By virtue of complex ecologies, the behavior of mutualisms is challenging to study and nearly impossible to predict. However, laboratory engineered mutualistic systems facilitate a better understanding of their bare essentials. On the basis of an abstract theoretical model and a modifiable experimental yeast system, we explore the environmental limits of self-organized cooperation based on the production and use of specific metabolites. We develop and test the assumptions and stability of the theoretical model by leveraging the simplicity of an artificial yeast system as a simple model of mutualism. We examine how one-off, recurring, and permanent changes to an ecological niche affect a cooperative interaction and change the population composition of an engineered mutualistic system. Moreover, we explore how the cellular burden of cooperating influences the stability of mutualism and how environmental changes shape this stability. Our results highlight the fragility of mutualisms and suggest interventions, including those that rely on the use of synthetic biology. IMPORTANCE The power of synthetic biology is immense. Will it, however, be able to withstand the environmental pressures once released in the wild. As new technologies aim to do precisely the same, we use a much simpler model to test mathematically the effect of a changing environment on a synthetic biological system. We assume that the system is successful if it maintains proportions close to what we observe in the laboratory. Extreme deviations from the expected equilibrium are possible as the environment changes. Our study provides the conditions and the designer specifications which may need to be incorporated in the synthetic systems if we want such “ecoblocs” to survive in the wild.