Requirement of optimal hosts and novel pathways to convert renewable materials to biofuels and other biomaterials has placed metabolism at the forefront of microbiological studies. This recent emphasis has also shifted the focus of microbiological research from classically well-studied topics such as host-pathogen metabolic interactions, to metabolism in non-pathogenic organisms. Advances in the use of non-model environmental microbes now range a variety of fields including, ecology, disease, biofuels and bioremediation and have been bolstered by systems biology approaches. For example, recent studies in system and synthetic biology for central carbon metabolism in environmental microbes have enhanced our knowledge in biofuel production from inorganic carbon or cheap organic substrates. Systems biology is an interdisciplinary field that requires physiological and microbiological assays, analytical and biochemical measurements, genome sequencing, transcriptomic, metabolomic and fluxomic surveys. A rigorous investigation of central carbon metabolism and complex enzymatic regulation in microbes requires a systems level approach. Further, it provides opportunity for unique collaborations between microbiologists, biochemists, engineers, chemists and cell and molecular biologists.
This research topic for Frontier in Microbiology provides recent advances in systems biology, focusing on biofuel- or bioremediation-related environmental microbes. The topic covers two aspects of current knowledge in environmental microbial metabolism, novel metabolic pathways and recent technical advances, especially in metabolic modeling and synthetic biology approaches. It serves to showcase the significance of systems level studies in understanding poorly characterized environmental microorganisms. It also provides key examples of novel metabolic insights that facilitated optimization of metabolic performance in environmental microbes.