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Microbial Metal Resistance within Structured Environments Is Inversely Related to Environmental Pore Size

Harvey, Harry J.; Mitzakoff, Anna M.T.; Wildman, Ricky D.; Mooney, Sacha J.; Avery, Simon V.

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Harry J. Harvey

Anna M.T. Mitzakoff

Professor of Multiphase Flow and Mechanics

Professor of Soil Physics

Professor of Eukaryotic Microbiology


The physical environments in which microorganisms naturally reside rarely have homogeneous structure, and changes in their porous architecture may have effects on microbial activities that are not typically captured in conventional laboratory studies. In this study, to investigate the influence of environmental structure on microbial responses to stress, we constructed structured environments with different pore properties (determined by X-ray computed tomography). First, using glass beads in different arrangements and inoculated with the soil yeast Saitozyma podzolica, increases in the average equivalent spherical diameters (ESD) of a structure's porous architecture led to decreased survival of the yeast under a toxic metal challenge with lead nitrate. This relationship was reproduced when yeasts were introduced into additively manufactured lattice structures, comprising regular arrays with ESDs comparable to those of the bead structures. The pore ESD dependency of metal resistance was not attributable to differences in cell density in microenvironments delimited by different pore sizes, supporting the inference that pore size specifically was the important parameter in determining survival of stress. These findings highlight the importance of the physical architecture of an organism's immediate environment for its response to environmental perturbation, while offering new tools for investigating these interactions in the laboratory. IMPORTANCE Interactions between cells and their structured environments are poorly understood but have significant implications for organismal success in both natural and nonnatural settings. This work used a multidisciplinary approach to develop laboratory models with which the influence of a key parameter of environmental structure-pore size-on cell activities can be dissected. Using these new methods in tandem with additive manufacturing, we demonstrated that resistance of yeast soil isolates to stress (from a common metal pollutant) is inversely related to pore size of their environment. This has important ramifications for understanding how microorganisms respond to stress in different environments. The findings also establish new pathways for resolving the effects of physical environment on microbial activity, enabling important understanding that is not readily attainable with traditional bulk sampling and analysis approaches.


Harvey, H. J., Mitzakoff, A. M., Wildman, R. D., Mooney, S. J., & Avery, S. V. (2021). Microbial Metal Resistance within Structured Environments Is Inversely Related to Environmental Pore Size. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 87(20), Article e01005-21.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 4, 2021
Online Publication Date Aug 4, 2021
Publication Date Sep 28, 2021
Deposit Date Sep 9, 2021
Publicly Available Date Sep 9, 2021
Journal Applied and environmental microbiology
Print ISSN 0099-2240
Electronic ISSN 1098-5336
Publisher American Society for Microbiology
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 87
Issue 20
Article Number e01005-21
Keywords Ecology; Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology; Food Science; Biotechnology
Public URL
Publisher URL


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