In your opinion, what have been the most noteworthy advances in the field of microbiology research in the past 15 years? Looking forward, what do you expect to be the most exciting advances in the next few years?
My favorite discovery in the past decade relates to a new mode of biological energy conservation, termed flavin-based electron bifurcation. Experimental evidence for this concept was first obtained by the laboratories of Drs. Rolf Thauer and Wolfgang Buckel (Li, F., Hinderberger, J., Seedorf, H., Zhang, J., Buckel, W. & Thauer, R. K.Coupled ferredoxin and crotonyl coenzyme A (CoA) reduction with NADH catalyzed by the butyryl-CoA dehydrogenasee/Etf complex from Clostridium kluyveri. J. Bacteriol 190, 843-50 2008). Subsequent work, by their research groups and others, further established that electron bifurcation is a general mechanism of energy conservation that operates in diverse anaerobic archaea and bacteria. For example, this process occurs in methanogens and homoacetogens, which shows that it is an important part of the syntrophic food web and relevant to the global carbon cycle. Moreover, electron bifurcation might explain a crucial step in the early evolution of life. Next to substrate-level phosphorylation and oxidative phosphorylation, electron bifurcation represents a third mode of biological energy conservation, and this discovery closed the energy balance of many anaerobes — a conundrum that had remained unsolved for many decades.
Obviously, the biggest surprise for the future would be one that I cannot anticipate. Since you ask, I expect major advances in synthetic biology approaches, from new pathway design to microbial synthetic communities. Such tools will help to increase our fundamental understanding of microbial processes and provide a bridge to applications. I am also particularly curious about new insights from archaea that might give us further clues on the prokaryote to eukaryote transition.
Do you have a favourite article that was published in Nature Reviews Microbiology, and if so, can you tell us why?
I have many favourite articles; many are excellent as teaching resource also such as ‘Autotrophic carbon fixation in archaea’ (by Ivan A. Berg, Daniel Kockelkorn, W. Hugo Ramos-Vera, Rafael F. Say, Jan Zarzycki, Michael Hügler, Birgit E. Alber & Georg Fuchs. Nature Reviews Microbiology 8, 447–460 (2010)). It makes important points about the pros and cons of different autotrophic pathways under diverse conditions.
You have written for Nature Reviews Microbiology in the past, can you tell us about the experience?
It was a pleasure to write for Nature Reviews Microbiology and to interact with Sheilagh Molloy and Christiaan VanOoij from the editorial team. They gave valuable feedback on a first outline and on the pre-final version before it went out to the referees, and they also provided guidance throughout the entire process. For the figures, it was sufficient to draw a rough sketch and a skilled staff member produced the final image, which helped make the submission process faster and smoother.
Read the Review by Julia A. Vorholt here:
Microbial life in the phyllosphere
Julia A. Vorholt
Nature Reviews Microbiology 10, 828–840 (2012)