The Molitor Lab is mainly interested in microbes that thrive in the complete absence of oxygen (anaerobes), and that feed on gases such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide as substrates for growth. These microbes can be found in many natural and man-made environments, in the digestive tract of animals and humans, as well as in anaerobic digesters, where they encounter interactions with other microbes and get infected by microbial viruses.
One focus of our group is to study the conversion of carbon dioxide from industrial off gases or from anaerobic digesters as a resource for a circular economy. We study bacteria that can convert carbon dioxide into acetic acid or ethanol (acetogenic bacteria), and a group of ancient microbes called archaea that can produce methane gas from carbon dioxide (methanogenic archaea), in short, for the production of green chemicals and synthetic fuels. To increase the value of this biotechnology, we develop and utilize tools that allow to change the genetic outfit of these microbes as biocatalysts to produce higher-value chemicals. For this purpose, we also use mathematical models of the microbial metabolism, so-called genome-scale metabolic models, for design-built-test-learn cycles in these optimization strategies.
Another focus is to investigate the interactions of microbes (e.g., methanogenic archaea with their viruses, and pathogenic clostridia with other microbes) in the human microbiome, for example in the gut. We study the interplay of specific microbes with other microbes, and for methanogenic archaea, the infection by specific viruses. The aim of this research is to understand the impact of these interactions on the entire microbiome and on the human host, for which we also make use of our genetic tools.