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Microbiome Stress Project’s first publication

Microbial communities are highly sensitive to their environments, which makes studying them under heterogeneous conditions difficult. Environmental perturbations (stressors) generate spatiotemporal heterogeneity in natural systems. While large databases of natural ecosystems exist (e.g. the Earth Microbiome Project or the Human Microbiome Project), there are no databases that catalog microbial ecosystems subjected to applied environmental stress. The Microbiome Stress Project (MSP) was established to build such a database and perform a global meta-analysis of how stressors shape microbial communities. The Gibbons Lab is a member of the MSP consortium.

The MSP consortium established four main objectives for evaluating how microbial communities respond to disturbances: 1) characterize consistent patterns for a single stressor across multiple studies within the same environment; 2) characterize consistent patterns for a single stressor impacts multiple environments; 3) characterize consistent patterns for multiple stressors within the same environment; 4) characterize consistent patterns for all stressors across all environments. In their pilot meta-analysis of nine studies, the researchers found an overall decrease in alpha diversity and an increase in beta diversity in response to stress. They also found many responses that were unique to stressors or environments, but these variable patterns require more data to explore properly. Moving forward, the MSP consortium will focus on incorporating hundreds of applied disturbance data sets into their database, processing each study with a standardized bioinformatic workflow.

The MSP database is a resource that will allow researchers to study how applied stressors impact microbial communities from myriad environments. Using these data, ecologists will be able to tackle key questions regarding ecological resistance and resilience.

-written by Conner Hyde

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