Composing the vast majority of the known species and biomass on the planet, microorganisms are fundamental players in human health, environmental processes, agriculture and food production. Their diverse range of essential functions across industry and nature render them essential in humanity’s efforts to optimize bio-industrial applications, prevent and treat diseases, and remediate environmental disturbances.
However, in the quest to understand and control microorganisms to overcome humanity’s challenges, the field of microbiology and microbial ecology faces a crucial obstacle: the necessary tools to selectively control the composition and abundance of microbes do not yet exist.
With the aid of Ontario Genomics’ SPARK program, Drs. David Edgell and Gregory Gloor of the University of Western Ontario are working to develop and test a CRISPR/Cas9 conjugative plasmid system to enable precise user-defined manipulation of the composition of a microbial community. Coupling the power and ease-of-use of CRISPR-based technologies with a self-transmissible plasmid, this novel microbial control system aims to enable the selective elimination of individual bacteria from a mixed population of bacteria. If successful, the plasmid-based CRISPR microbial control system has broad-ranging applications in basic biomedical research, industrial food-related process, and human health.