Stilianos Louca

Stilianos Louca, Grand Prize Winner 2017 – Ecology and Environment

Biography

As an undergraduate, Stilianos Louca studied physics and mathematics at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Germany, before going on to attain a PhD in applied mathematics at the University of British Columbia, Canada. During his doctoral research, he investigated how microorganisms, in particular their genes, interact with the environment and with each other to drive elemental fluxes at ecosystem scales. Louca is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Biodiversity Research Centre in Vancouver, where he continues to investigate the ecology and evolution of microbial metabolism using mathematical modeling, molecular sequencing, and laboratory experiments.

Synopsis

Probing the metabolism of microorganisms

Our understanding of the role of microbial communities on ecosystem biochemistry is extremely limited, because the enormous microbial diversity poses a challenge to mathematical modeling. Despite the millions of extant microbial species, most elemental fluxes are driven by a core set of metabolic reactions, performed by a few genes found across a wide spectrum of microorganisms. Louca showed that in many cases the dynamics of these genes can become independent of the taxonomic composition of microbial communities. In particular, environmental conditions largely determine the biochemical activity of these genes, while the species that happen to perform each biochemical reaction are largely dependent on complex interactions between species. His work has important implications for ecosystem biochemistry and industrial use of microorganisms.