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  • Writer's pictureJags Pandhal

Engineering solar-powered microbial consortia

by Zongting Cai

I can't believe it has been half a decade since I returned to Edinburgh. It was just a short stay for attending the Microbiology Society Annual Conference 2024, but it was definitely a deeply informative experience. With sessions such as the Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic Fora, I had the opportunity to refresh my knowledge about perspectives in microbial systems engineering. This year, the Environmental and Applied Microbiology forum was particularly impactful, as it was there that I presented my research on algae-bacteria consortia, a milestone that showcased how far I've come since my last visit five years ago.

Focusing on microbial systems engineering, my special research interest lies in photosynthetic microorganisms, which I believe have the power to change the next generation of industry. The natural world is an excellent example of microbial systems, resulting from co-evolution. We can find an infinite number of intricately designed, but more importantly, efficient and somewhat intelligent systems, especially in aquatic environments. One must wonder what and where we can mimic such systems for our benefit. More importantly and more practically, how do we find such systems and identify the true points of studying them until we can better harness them for the production of valuable bioproducts, bioremediation, and even just the mining of knowledge from complex models and mechanisms of algae-bacteria interactions? All these questions drive me to dive deeper into the ‘unknowns’ of algae-bacteria consortia engineering, not just because this is my research niche, but also because of my faith in these photosynthetic microorganisms which have the power to change the world.

Joining this event was a milestone marking my progression in my research journey. Sharing work and knowledge with like-minded experts, gaining invaluable insights, and expanding connections are precisely what we all needed. The discussions in innovative techniques showcased, such as single-cell omics, have indeed prompted me to consider the diverse applications of these molecular tools, which I aim to utilize more effectively in my research.

The most significant takeaway message from this conference, perhaps from my perspective, is the importance and power of synthetic biology. A field that is not as simple as it sounds shall be the bedrock of future industrial advancements. This aligns perfectly with my above-mentioned 'faith' and my work. This absolutely fuels my motivation for exploring algae-bacteria interactions to unlock their potential and possibly lead to new sustainable bioproduction systems.

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