Engineered biological treatments such as wastewater treatment plants are amazing! Thousands of different types of seemingly anonymous microorganisms come together in an engineered space to remove pollutants. Most of the time, these engineered systems work, but occasionally fail. Successful biological treatment is critical as it remains one of the most cost-effective processes for pollutant removal.
We believe that all biological treatment plants operate to essentially the same rules. Therefore, understanding the rules that govern microbial communities is key to their successful design and operation. Microbial ecology provides a new scientific basis for engineering better systems. We are applying a synthesis of ecological theories and DNA-based molecular measurement tools to understand and predict how microbial communities assemble, change over time and respond to nutrients and other resources. In addition, our research focuses on integrating quantitative microbial data into simple process models for microorganisms involved in specific process functions or problems.