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  1. Methanogens are anaerobic archaea which conserve energy by producing methane. Found in nearly every anaerobic environment on earth, methanogens serve important roles in ecology as key organisms of the global carbon cycle, and in industry as a source of renewable biofuels. Environmentally, methanogenic archaea play an essential role in the reintroducing unavailable carbon to the carbon cycle by anaerobically converting low-energy, terminal metabolic degradation products such as one and two-carbon molecules into methane which then returns to the aerobic portion of the carbon cycle. In industry, methanogens are commonly used as an inexpensive source of renewable biofuels as well as serving as a vital component in the treatment of wastewater though this is only the tip of the iceberg with respect to their metabolic potential. In this review we will discuss how the efficient central metabolism of methanoarchaea could be harnessed for future biotechnology applications. 
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  2. Methanogenic archaea are important organisms in the global carbon cycle that grow by producing methane gas. Methanosarcina acetivorans is a methanogenic archaeum that can grow using methylated compounds, carbon monoxide, or acetate and produces renewable methane as a byproduct. However, there is limited knowledge of how combinations of substrates may affect metabolic fluxes in methanogens. Previous studies have shown that heterodisulfide reductase, the terminal oxidase in the electron transport system, is an essential enzyme in all methanogens. Deletion of genes encoding the nonessential methylotrophic heterodisulfide reductase enzyme (HdrABC) results in slower growth rate but increased metabolic efficiency. We hypothesized that increased sulfide, supplementation of mercaptoethanesulfonate (coenzyme M, CoM-SH), or acetate would metabolically alleviate the effect of the ΔhdrABC mutation. Increased sulfide improved growth of the mutant as expected; however, supplementation of both CoM-SH and acetate together were necessary to reduce the effect of the ΔhdrABC mutation. Supplementation of CoM-SH or acetate alone did not improve growth. These results support our model for the role of HdrABC in methanogenesis and suggest M.acetivorans is more efficient at conserving energy when supplemented with acetate. Our study suggests decreased Hdr enzyme activity can be overcome by nutritional supplementation with sulfide or coenzyme M and acetate, which are abundant in anaerobic environments. 
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  3. Abstract

    Plant growth and resilience require balancing an inherently oxidative metabolism with powerful antioxidant systems that help maintain homeostasis. When the environment changes, reactive oxygen species are potent indicators of that change, allowing adaptation through re-balancing metabolism and antioxidant systems. A large body of evidence supports the use of exogenously applied antioxidants to improve both plant growth and their resilience to stress. Notably, some phenotypic effects are similar upon the application of chemically diverse antioxidants, while others are distinct. In this review, we analyze research from antioxidant treatment experiments and highlight the similarities in their practical applications and their effects on plant stress tolerance, photosynthesis, native antioxidant systems, and phytohormones. We also briefly cover the specific effects of individually applied antioxidants and what is known about their potential modes of action. Given the strong potential of antioxidant applications, we discuss research needed to promote their agricultural use. Finally, we identify outstanding questions about how the exogenous application of antioxidants mechanistically affects plant growth.

     
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  4. Claesen, Jan (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Trophic interactions between microbes are postulated to determine whether a host microbiome is healthy or causes predisposition to disease. Two abundant taxa, the Gram-negative heterotrophic bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron and the methanogenic archaeon Methanobrevibacter smithii , are proposed to have a synergistic metabolic relationship. Both organisms play vital roles in human gut health; B. thetaiotaomicron assists the host by fermenting dietary polysaccharides, whereas M. smithii consumes end-stage fermentation products and is hypothesized to relieve feedback inhibition of upstream microbes such as B. thetaiotaomicron . To study their metabolic interactions, we defined and optimized a coculture system and used software testing techniques to analyze growth under a range of conditions representing the nutrient environment of the host. We verify that B. thetaiotaomicron fermentation products are sufficient for M. smithii growth and that accumulation of fermentation products alters secretion of metabolites by B. thetaiotaomicron to benefit M. smithii . Studies suggest that B. thetaiotaomicron metabolic efficiency is greater in the absence of fermentation products or in the presence of M. smithii . Under certain conditions, B. thetaiotaomicron and M. smithii form interspecies granules consistent with behavior observed for syntrophic partnerships between microbes in soil or sediment enrichments and anaerobic digesters. Furthermore, when vitamin B 12 , hematin, and hydrogen gas are abundant, coculture growth is greater than the sum of growth observed for monocultures, suggesting that both organisms benefit from a synergistic mutual metabolic relationship. IMPORTANCE The human gut functions through a complex system of interactions between the host human tissue and the microbes which inhabit it. These diverse interactions are difficult to model or examine under controlled laboratory conditions. We studied the interactions between two dominant human gut microbes, B. thetaiotaomicron and M. smithii , using a seven-component culturing approach that allows the systematic examination of the metabolic complexity of this binary microbial system. By combining high-throughput methods with machine learning techniques, we were able to investigate the interactions between two dominant genera of the gut microbiome in a wide variety of environmental conditions. Our approach can be broadly applied to studying microbial interactions and may be extended to evaluate and curate computational metabolic models. The software tools developed for this study are available as user-friendly tutorials in the Department of Energy KBase. 
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  5. Abstract Advances in quantitative biology data collection and analysis across scales (molecular, cellular, organismal, and ecological) have transformed how we understand, categorize, and predict complex biological systems. This surge of quantitative data creates an opportunity to apply, develop, and evaluate mathematical models of biological systems and explore novel methods of analysis. Simultaneously, thanks to increased computational power, mathematicians, engineers and physical scientists have developed sophisticated models of biological systems at different scales. Novel modeling schemes can offer deeper understanding of principles in biology, but there is still a disconnect between modeling and experimental biology that limits our ability to fully realize the integration of mathematical modeling and biology. In this work, we explore the urgent need to expand the use of existing mathematical models across biological scales, develop models that are robust to biological heterogeneity, harness feedback loops within the iterative modeling process, and nurture a cultural shift towards interdisciplinary and cross-field interactions. Better integration of biological experimentation and robust mathematical modeling will transform our ability to understand and predict complex biological systems. 
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  6. Wastewater biosolids are a promising feedstock for production of value-added renewable chemicals. Methane-producing archaea (methanogens) are already used to produce renewable biogas via the anaerobic treatment of wastewater. The ability of methanogens to efficiently convert dissolved organic carbon into methane makes them an appealing potential platform for biorefining using metabolic engineering. We have engineered a strain of the methanogen Methanosarcina acetivorans to produce the volatile hemiterpene isoprene in addition to methane. The engineered strain was adapted to grow in municipal wastewater through cultivation in a synthetic wastewater medium. When introduced to municipal wastewater the engineered methanogens were able to compete with the indigenous microorganisms and produce 0.97 mM of isoprene (65.9 ± 21.3 g per m3 of effluent). The production of isoprene in wastewater appears to be dependent on the quantity of available methanogenic substrate produced during upstream digestion by heterotrophic fermenters. This shows that with minimal adaptation it is possible to drop-in engineered methanogens to existing wastewater environments and attain value-added products in addition to the processing of wastewater. This shows the potential for utilizing methanogens as a platform for low-cost production of renewable materials without expensive feedstocks or the need to build or adapt existing facilities. 
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  7. null (Ed.)
    Synopsis Information, energy, and matter are fundamental properties of all levels of biological organization, and life emerges from the continuous flux of matter, energy, and information. This perspective piece defines and explains each of the three pillars of this nexus. We propose that a quantitative characterization of the complex interconversions between matter, energy, and information that comprise this nexus will help us derive biological insights that connect phenomena across different levels of biological organization. We articulate examples from multiple biological scales that highlight how this nexus approach leads to a more complete understanding of the biological system. Metrics of energy, information, and matter can provide a common currency that helps link phenomena across levels of biological organization. The propagation of energy and information through levels of biological organization can result in emergent properties and system-wide changes that impact other hierarchical levels. Deeper consideration of measured imbalances in energy, information, and matter can help researchers identify key factors that influence system function at one scale, highlighting avenues to link phenomena across levels of biological organization and develop predictive models of biological systems. 
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  8. Atomi, Haruyuki (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Isoprene is a valuable petrochemical used for a wide variety of consumer goods, such as adhesives and synthetic rubber. We were able to achieve a high yield of renewable isoprene by taking advantage of the naturally high-flux mevalonate lipid synthesis pathway in anaerobic methane-producing archaea (methanogens). Our study illustrates that by genetically manipulating Methanosarcina species methanogens, it is possible to create organisms that grow by producing the hemiterpene isoprene. Mass balance measurements show that engineered methanogens direct up to 4% of total carbon flux to isoprene, demonstrating that methanogens produce higher isoprene yields than engineered yeast, bacteria, or cyanobacteria, and from inexpensive feedstocks. Expression of isoprene synthase resulted in increased biomass and changes in gene expression that indicate that isoprene synthesis depletes membrane precursors and redirects electron flux, enabling isoprene to be a major metabolic product. Our results demonstrate that methanogens are a promising engineering chassis for renewable isoprene synthesis. IMPORTANCE A significant barrier to implementing renewable chemical technologies is high production costs relative to those for petroleum-derived products. Existing technologies using engineered organisms have difficulty competing with petroleum-derived chemicals due to the cost of feedstocks (such as glucose), product extraction, and purification. The hemiterpene monomer isoprene is one such chemical that cannot currently be produced using cost-competitive renewable biotechnologies. To reduce the cost of renewable isoprene, we have engineered methanogens to synthesize it from inexpensive feedstocks such as methane, methanol, acetate, and carbon dioxide. The “isoprenogen” strains we developed have potential to be used for industrial production of inexpensive renewable isoprene. 
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  9. Lal, Rup (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Microbial metabolism and trophic interactions between microbes give rise to complex multispecies communities in microbe-host systems. Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron ( B. theta ) is a human gut symbiont thought to play an important role in maintaining host health. Untargeted nuclear magnetic resonance metabolomics revealed B. theta secretes specific organic acids and amino acids in defined minimal medium. Physiological concentrations of acetate and formate found in the human intestinal tract were shown to cause dose-dependent changes in secretion of metabolites known to play roles in host nutrition and pathogenesis. While secretion fluxes varied, biomass yield was unchanged, suggesting feedback inhibition does not affect metabolic bioenergetics but instead redirects carbon and energy to CO 2 and H 2 . Flux balance analysis modeling showed increased flux through CO 2 -producing reactions under glucose-limiting growth conditions. The metabolic dynamics observed for B. theta , a keystone symbiont organism, underscores the need for metabolic modeling to complement genomic predictions of microbial metabolism to infer mechanisms of microbe-microbe and microbe-host interactions. IMPORTANCE Bacteroides is a highly abundant taxon in the human gut, and Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron ( B. theta ) is a ubiquitous human symbiont that colonizes the host early in development and persists throughout its life span. The phenotypic plasticity of keystone organisms such as B. theta is important to understand in order to predict phenotype(s) and metabolic interactions under changing nutrient conditions such as those that occur in complex gut communities. Our study shows B. theta prioritizes energy conservation and suppresses secretion of “overflow metabolites” such as organic acids and amino acids when concentrations of acetate are high. Secreted metabolites, especially amino acids, can be a source of nutrients or signals for the host or other microbes in the community. Our study suggests that when metabolically stressed by acetate, B. theta stops sharing with its ecological partners. 
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