Dynamics of microbial competition, commensalism, and cooperation and its implications for coculture and microbiome engineering

Peng Xu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Microbial consortium is a complex adaptive system with higher-order dynamic characteristics that are not present by individual members. To accurately predict the social interactions, we formulate a set of unstructured kinetic models to quantitatively capture the dynamic interactions of multiple microbial species. By introducing an interaction coefficient, we analytically derived the steady-state solutions for the interacting species and the substrate-depleting profile in the chemostat. We analyzed the stability of the possible coexisting states defined by competition, parasitism, amensalism, commensalism, and cooperation. Our model predicts that only parasitism, commensalism, and cooperation could lead to stable coexisting states. We also determined the optimal social interaction criteria of microbial coculture when sequential metabolic reactions are compartmentalized into two distinct species. Coupled with Luedeking–Piret and Michaelis–Menten equations, accumulation of metabolic intermediates in one species and formation of end-product in another species could be derived and assessed. We discovered that parasitism consortia disfavor the bioconversion of intermediate to final product; and commensalism consortia could efficiently convert metabolic intermediates to final product and maintain metabolic homeostasis with a broad range of operational conditions (i.e., dilution rates); whereas cooperative consortia leads to highly nonlinear pattern of precursor accumulation and end-product formation. The underlying dynamics and emergent properties of microbial consortia may provide critical knowledge for us to understand ecological coexisting states, engineer efficient bioconversion process, deliver effective gut therapeutics as well as elucidate probiotic-pathogen or tumor-host interactions in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-209
Number of pages11
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • commensalism
  • competition
  • cooperation
  • dynamic analysis
  • microbial consortia
  • social interactions


Dive into the research topics of 'Dynamics of microbial competition, commensalism, and cooperation and its implications for coculture and microbiome engineering'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this