Stability of Function and Microbial Communities in Engineered Systems


The maintenance of stable function is a major goal of system design and operation for bioremediation and biological wastewater treatment. However, surprisingly little is known about the relationships between dynamics of microbial communities and functional stability. In our research, we investigate fundamental questions about these relationships, including:

  • What factors make a community more or less stable to perturbations?
  • Do microbial communities adapt to perturbations?
  • What is the role of diversity in the functional stability of a microbial community?
  • What is the relationship between stability of community structure and stability of function?
  • How can we quantify the stability of function and microbial community structure in bioreactors?
  • Can communities be designed or managed to enhance functional stability?

The understanding gained from these investigations will promote the design and operation of stable bioreactor systems in several ways.  It will improve engineering models for treatment system design, help identify candidate populations and strategies for bioaugmentation or genetic manipulation, and aid in establishing rigorous methods for monitoring and controlling bioreactor systems. Currently, our investigation is focused to two different applications:  denitrification in model bench-top reactors and nitrification in a lab-scale membrane bioreactor and in a full-scale wastewater treatment plant.

Professor Chris Francis, Department of Geological & Environmental Sciences is Co-PI on the nitrification in a full-scale wastewater treatment plant project

For a list of researchers working on the wastewater treatment project, click here.