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Thermodynamic modelling of synthetic communities predicts minimum free energy requirements for sulfate reduction and methanogenesis

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Matthew WadeORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Microbial communities are complex dynamical systems harbouring many species interacting together to implement higher-level functions. Among these higher-level functions, conversion of organic matter into simpler building blocks by microbial communities underpins biogeochemical cycles and animal and plant nutrition, and is exploited in biotechnology. A prerequisite to predicting the dynamics and stability of community-mediated metabolic conversions is the development and calibration of appropriate mathematical models. Here, we present a generic, extendable thermodynamic model for community dynamics and calibrate a key parameter of this thermodynamic model, the minimum energy requirement associated with growth-supporting metabolic pathways, using experimental population dynamics data from synthetic communities composed of a sulfate reducer and two methanogens. Our findings show that accounting for thermodynamics is necessary in capturing the experimental population dynamics of these synthetic communities that feature relevant species using low energy growth pathways. Furthermore, they provide the first estimates for minimum energy requirements of methanogenesis (in the range of −30 kJ mol−1) and elaborate on previous estimates of lactate fermentation by sulfate reducers (in the range of −30 to −17 kJ mol−1 depending on the culture conditions). The open-source nature of the developed model and demonstration of its use for estimating a key thermodynamic parameter should facilitate further thermodynamic modelling of microbial communities.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Delattre H, Chen J, Wade MJ, Soyer OS

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of the Royal Society Interface

Year: 2020

Volume: 17

Issue: 166

Pages: 20200053

Print publication date: 27/05/2020

Online publication date: 06/05/2020

Acceptance date: 21/04/2020

Date deposited: 06/05/2020

ISSN (print): 1742-5689

ISSN (electronic): 1742-5662

Publisher: Royal Society


DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2020.0053


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Funder referenceFunder name
702408European Commission