Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Microbial evolution

Microorganisms have the potential to evolve and adapt rapidly in response to their environment due to their large population size and short generation times. This is well documented for laboratory culture conditions. However, it not known if this potential is realized in natural communities characterized by slow growth and complex abiotic and biotic interactions.

Our goal is to track, measure and understand microbial genome evolution in nature, specifically in the seabed. Using environmental DNA sequencing approaches we will map the genomes of the microorganisms inhabiting the seabed. We hereby aim to address and answer two main questions regarding microbial evolution in nature: How fast do microbial populations evolve (i.e. diversify genetically) and by which main mechanism.

Answers to these questions are fundamental to understanding how the seabed microbiome, and the ecosystem services it performs, can respond to environmental change and more broadly how natural microbial communities evolve.

Independent Research Fund Denmark has sponsored this project with DKK 2.8 million.

Marine sediments grow by sedimentation whereby cells populating the surface sediment are buried into the subsurface sediment below. So genomes (here named MAGs) in older (deeper) sediment are ancestral to genomes in younger (upper) sediment. This offers a time series for studying microbial genome evolution via sequencing of environmental microbial DNA.