Engineered rhizosphere bacteria sense phosphorus limitation in the environment and respond by producing organic acids or redox-active metabolites that help solubilize phosphorus bound to soil minerals.
Soil ecology is an important aspect of many Army-relevant activities, including analysis, preparation, and remediation of soil for support of military field operations and environmental restoration in domestic settings. An emerging tool that can advance our activities in these areas is the use of engineered microorganisms that can be deployed as sensors, actuators, and regulators of the soil microbiome (rhizosphere). This project will develop new technologies for integrating engineered biological function into soil-relevant organisms and developing a toolkit that can be used by researchers interested in characterization and manipulation of the rhizosphere. Building on interactions with the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) and the Environmental Laboratory (EL) at the Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) as well as the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), we will explore Army-relevant applications of soil synthetic biology and develop fundamental technologies that can help address future Army needs.
We will develop genetic circuits that can be implemented in engineered microbes operating in (laboratory-based) soil environments that are able to sense and manipulate the concentration of small molecules present in the soil. We plan to use phosphorous as our initial molecule of interest, as a model for other chemical species present in soils.