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From axenic to mixed cultures: technological advances accelerating a paradigm shift in microbiology

Meyer, Vera; Nai, Corrado

FG Angewandte und Molekulare Mikrobiologie

Since the onset of microbiology in the late 19th century, scientists have been growing microorganisms almost exclusively as pure cultures, resulting in a limited and biased view of the microbial world. Only a paradigm shift in cultivation techniques – from axenic to mixed cultures – can allow a full comprehension of the (chemical) communication of microorganisms, with profound consequences for natural product discovery, microbial ecology, symbiosis, and pathogenesis, to name a few areas. Three main technical advances during the last decade are fueling the realization of this revolution in microbiology: microfluidics, next-generation 3D-bioprinting, and single-cell metabolomics. These technological advances can be implemented for large-scale, systematic cocultivation studies involving three or more microorganisms. In this review, we present recent trends in microbiology tools and discuss how these can be employed to decode the chemical language that microorganisms use to communicate.