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Mapping the Microverse

The research team led by Bas Dutilh is redefining the way microbial niches are defined and understood.

Here, the script is flipped; instead of defining a niche as a collection of environmental factors, as is the traditional approach in biology, the authors propose that a niche can also be defined by the collection of microorganisms present. Since microorganisms are selected for and adapt to environmental conditions, the components such as mineral content, moisture and temperature are essentially encoded into a microorganism-forward definition.

Also investigated was the role that specialists, microorganisms that are usually only found in a specific type of environment, and generalists, those that can widely adapt, play in forming these ecological niches.

By analyzing 22,500 genomic datasets, the authors were able to develop the first Map of the Microverse, which depicts 140 diverse ecological niches.

More information can be found on the FSU Jena website.

F. A. B. von Meijenfeldt, P. Hogeweg, B. E. Dutilh: A social niche breadth score reveals niche range strategies of generalists and specialists, Nature Ecology and Evolution (2023), https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-023-02027-7