Forum on Microbial Metabolism

Coordinators: Terry Hwa, Boris Shraiman, and Alfred Spormann

The amazing metabolic potential of microbes in exploiting energy sources including organic matter in diverse environments is largely responsible for the diversity of life and fluxes of elements on our planet. Metabolic activities by microbes in the ocean, for example, account for as much as half of the total carbon dioxide flux from the atmosphere, while microbial metabolism in the human gut exerts critical effects on the health of the host. Metabolic capabilities exhibited by different microbes are extremely diverse; yet follow a few organizing principles. Understanding these principles of diversity and commonality of microbial metabolism is crucial for appreciating the richness of microbial lives and the versatile and varied communities that they support.

This Forum is intended to introduce fundamental concepts of microbial metabolism to a broad group of non-specialists interested in studying microbial communities. Through a combination of tutorials and seminars on a series of concrete, exemplary systems by a panel of expert experimentalists, this forum aims to help quantitative scientists establish a solid footing on organizing principles of metabolic interactions, such as physical-chemical structure of the environment, competition and fitness, metabolic patterns of rate-yield-trade off, and syntrophic interactions, to name a few, encountered in a diverse microbial communities, including in the ocean, soil and sediments, the human gut, and extreme geological environments. With extensive time allotted for discussion between participants and expert lecturers, this forum intends to engage quantitative scientists to formulate and generalize findings from focused concrete studies to more complex settings. The forum also serves as a prelude to the ensuing KITP summer 2021 program on “Ecology and Evolution of Microbial Communities”, which will feature recent exploration of microbial communities by quantitative scientists.

This Forum will take place on Zoom in the form of 10 weekly 3h sessions, scheduled on Thursdays 10:00am to 1:00pm PST, starting with January 14th, 2021. The first two sessions will be tutorials on basic metabolic concepts for participants without prior knowledge of metabolism. Subsequent sessions will be given by guest lecturers, each session consisting of one speaker, with a 45min tutorial and a 30min research talk, interspersed with ample time for numerous questions and substantial discussions, in keeping with the tradition of KITP talks. The tentative line-up of lectures can be found here.