Investigating metabolic interactions in a microbial co-culture through integrated modelling and experiments

Published in "Computational and structural biotechnology journal"
Aarthi Ravikrishnan , Lars M. Blank , Smita Srivastava , Karthik Raman

Microbial co-cultures have been used in several biotechnological applications. Within these co-cultures, the microorganisms tend to interact with each other and perform complex actions. Investigating metabolic interactions in microbial co-cultures is crucial in designing microbial consortia. Here, we present a pipeline integrating modelling and experimental approaches to understand metabolic interactions between organisms in a community. We define a new index named “Metabolic Support Index (MSI)”, which quantifies the benefits derived by each organism in the presence of the other when grown as a co-culture. We computed MSI for several experimentally demonstrated co-cultures and showed that MSI, as a metric, accurately identifies the organism that derives the maximum benefit. We also computed MSI for a commonly used yeast co-culture consisting of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Pichia stipitis and observed that the latter derives higher benefit from the interaction. Further, we designed two-stage experiments to study mutual interactions and showed that P. stipitis indeed derives the maximum benefit from the interaction, as shown from our computational predictions. Also, using our previously developed computational tool MetQuest, we identified all the metabolic exchanges happening between these organisms by analysing the pathways spanning the two organisms. By analysing the HPLC profiles and studying the isotope labelling, we show that P. stipitis consumes the ethanol produced by S. cerevisiae when grown on glucose-rich medium under aerobic conditions, as also indicated by our in silico pathway analyses. Our approach represents an important step in understanding metabolic interactions in microbial communities through an integrated computational and experimental workflow.