From PNNL: “Seeing the Messages Microbes Send”

Novel chemical imaging instrument shows how bacteria support diverse, nearby colonies

March 2013
Suraiya Farukhi
Christine Sharp

Results: With a novel technique that noninvasively analyzes microbes, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory profiled, for the first time, the chemicals that a cyanobacterium makes available to others. Over 4 days, Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 steadily secretes two molecules that could be used as resources by other bacteria that are nearby. The technique that chemically profiles the microbial communities in both space and time is Nanospray Desorption Ionization Electrospray Mass Spectrometry, or nano-DESI. This instrument was built by Dr. Julia Laskin and her team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This research graced the cover of Analyst.

Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory used the nano-DESI to show how bacteria support other colonies. No image credit.

‘This is a tool that will help microbiologists identify molecules that promote or inhibit growth of microbial communities,’ said Lab Fellow Laskin. ‘It also gives us much better control for studying interactions between microbial communities.’

Why It Matters: Understanding microbial ecology — how bacteria, algae and other microbes influence each other — could provide basic answers needed to advance sustainable energy. For example, Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 uses carbon dioxide and sunlight to produce sugars that fuel the colony. Knowing how to best grow and modify these bacteria to mass-produce fuels could increase our nation’s energy independence. Here, nano-DESI provides key data for sustainable energy, but the opportunities stretch much farther.

‘Any place where there are microbes and you have a format where nano-DESI could be applied, you can study that ecology,’ said Dr. Allan Konopka, a biologist and Lab Fellow at PNNL who worked on the study. ‘This opens doors to a host of applications, such as understanding how bacteria associated with plant roots affect a plant.'”

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is one of the United States Department of Energy National Laboratories, managed by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The main campus of the laboratory is in Richland, Washington.

PNNL scientists conduct basic and applied research and development to strengthen U.S. scientific foundations for fundamental research and innovation; prevent and counter acts of terrorism through applied research in information analysis, cyber security, and the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction; increase the U.S. energy capacity and reduce dependence on imported oil; and reduce the effects of human activity on the environment. PNNL has been operated by Battelle Memorial Institute since 1965.


ScienceSprings is powered by MAINGEAR computers