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May 10, 2023

Environmental Preferences Of Microbes

Researchers have developed a machine-learning model to link the genomic data of ecosystem-sustaining microbes to the acidity of their preferred environments, allowing a better understanding of water and soil conditions in an ever-changing world.

Credit: Environmental Preferences Of Microbes

Microbial life is critical to a functioning ecosystem, but scientists investigating climate change know exceptionally little about how to cultivate them. As we seek to protect endangered species and guide ecological restoration efforts, a strong understanding of microbial life will be essential. We'll explore one way the U.S. National Science Foundation is supporting ecological research in the "Discovery Files."

In any corner of the world, if you look on a small enough scale, you can find a lot of microorganisms with important ecological functions. But the environmental preferences of these microbes are difficult to reproduce in the lab causing bacteria to not be widely studied.

Supported in part by NSF, a group of researchers lead by the University of Colorado Boulder, have developed a novel approach to learning more about the basics of the microbial world to give scientists a first guess at the preferred pH bacteria need to thrive.

Using machine learning technology, the researchers sorted through more than 250,000 types of bacteria found in samples collected from diverse ecosystems to link the genetic makeup of the bacteria to the environmental acidity preferences of that group.

This method has immediate impacts in the ability to grow a wider diversity of bacteria, to predict when and where we might find them in the wild, and can help the design of effective probiotics, spurring the bioeconomy in an ever-changing world.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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