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“Programmable” Ecosystems: Engineered Environments for the Study of Biosystems Development

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Emily Chillingworth.

The necessity of understanding the role of the abiotic and biotic environment on the development of plants and ecosystems is challenged by a lack of tools capable of providing simple and controllable model systems with which to test hypotheses. While biology has made great strides in the implementation of sophisticated methods for the characterization of the various -omics, relatively little has been done to improve and standardize the tools available for the growing of plants in controlled environments. Our group is interested in creating a set of integrated tools to allow the scientific community to create completely customizable environments with which to conduct plant biology and plant ecology experiments. In this talk I will describe a strategy for the design of model ecosystems for plants and their microbiome in which the ecosystem composition, connectivity, and stimulation can be programmed and dynamically controlled. These meter-scale experimental model systems are designed as networks of interconnected nodes, whereby each node is occupied by one or more of the ecosystem’ organisms. The connections between the nodes are selectively permeable (e.g., allowing root penetration but preventing bacteria colonisation). Constant directional flows enable the stimulation and colonization of selected organisms within the ecosystems. Oscillating flows result instead in transport of chemicals between nodes that obeys Fickian diffusion but with controllable rate and direct I will highlight the possibilities offered by these experimental tools to investigate (i) the role of ecosystem topology on its stress response, and (ii) the role of local physico-chemical heterogeneities on the topology of individual root systems.

This talk is part of the Sainsbury Laboratory Seminars series.

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