Unlock a large-scale infrastructure for research on microbial communities

Microbial communities are of key importance at different scales in our society, ranging from individual-based health issues related to microbial communities inhabiting the human body, to global greenhouse gas (i.e. CH4 and N2O) emissions related to microbial activity. 

Even though microbial ecosystems are characterized by an enormous diversity, and mixed microbial communities inherently have interesting emergent properties, fundamental and applied microbial research historically have been focused on a very limited number of isolated single strains. This is because many of the key-microorganisms of microbial communities depend on symbiotic interactions for growth and therefore are difficult to study and explore in isolation. Because of these challenges we have been able to isolate, study and use no more than 1% of the natural microbial diversity, meaning that we have overlooked a major fraction of the microbial potential available in nature. 

In light of these challenges, three major limitations exist in our current experimental procedures in research on microbial communities: (i) the lack of high-throughput cultivation facilities for parallel and comparative analysis of microbial ecosystems, (ii) the effective integration of these cultivation studies with molecular systems characterizations, and (iii) tight integration and transparent and uniform storage and processing of the generated data.

UNLOCK is a unique facility for research on mixed microbial communities and will address exactly these three limitations, through enabling research on mixed microbial communities at an unprecedented scale and efficiency. The Unlock research infrastructure is composed of three complementary experimental platforms for high-throughput discovery and characterization of microbial communities and a FAIR-data platform for large scale data storage, data extraction and analysis of high-throughput data in a cloud-based infrastructure.