Surface-attached microbial communities are pervasive on our planet. They drive every major biogeochemical cycle, perform processes important for environmental and industrial biotechnology, and affect human health and disease. Many important functions and traits of these communities are encoded on plasmids, such as antimicrobial resistance, pathogenicity, and pollutant biodegradation. Because these communities expand across space as they grow and divide (referred to as range expansion), this raises important questions regarding the fate of plasmids. How does the range expansion process affect plasmid transfer and proliferation?
Here, we are using synthetic ecology approaches to address this question. We assemble synthetic communities consisting of a plasmid donor and a plasmid free strain. We then allow the communities to expand across space and track the transfer and proliferation of the plasmid. Our current focus is on plasmids carrying antibiotic resistance, but the general principles we seek to elucidate could be relevant for any plasmid, including those important for pathogenicity, human health and disease, and biotechnology.