Environmental structure affects interactions between microbial species, making the common kitchen sponge a better incubator for bacterial diversity than a laboratory Petri dish
By Ken Kingery
Researchers at Duke University have uncovered a basic but surprising fact: your kitchen sponge is a better incubator for diverse bacterial communities than a laboratory Petri dish. But it’s not just the trapped leftovers that make the cornucopia of microbes swarming around so happy and productive, it’s the structure of the sponge itself.
In a series of experiments, the scientists show how various microbial species can affect one another’s population dynamics depending on factors of their structural environment such as complexity and size. Some bacteria thrive in a diverse community while others prefer a solitary existence. And a physical environment that allows both kinds to live their best lives leads to the strongest levels of biodiversity.
Soil provides this sort of optimal mixed-housing environment, and so does your kitchen sponge.
The Duke biomedical engineers say their results suggest that structural environments should be taken into account by industries that use bacteria to accomplish tasks such as cleaning up pollution or producing commercial products.
The results appeared online February 9 in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.