Kombucha as a model system for multispecies microbial cooperation: theoretical promise, methodological challenges and new solutions 'in solution
Alexander Niall May, James Medina, Joe Alcock, Carlo Maley, Athena Aktipis
Kombucha is a sweetened tea fermented by bacteria and yeast into a carbonated, acidic drink, producing a surface biofilm pellicle (colloquially called a SCOBY) during the process. Typically, liquid and a biofilm pellicle from a previously fermented culture are used as a starter for new cultures; however, there is no standard protocol for growing kombucha in the laboratory. In order to establish a standard protocol with low variability between replicates, we tested whether we could begin a kombucha culture with only well-mixed liquid stock. We found that viable kombucha cultures can be grown from low percentages of initial inoculum stock liquid, that new pellicles can form from liquid alone (with no 'starter' pellicle), and that the variation in the pellicle characteristics is lower when only a liquid starter is used (p = 0.0004). We also found that blending the pellicle before including it significantly reduces the variation among replicates, though the final pellicle was abnormal. We conclude that growing kombucha from only liquid stock is viable and provides a greater degree of experimental control and reproducibility compared to alternatives. Standardizing methodologies for studying kombucha in the lab can facilitate the use of this system for exploring questions about the evolutionary, ecological, and cooperative/competitive dynamics within this multi-species system, including resource transfers, functional dependence, genetic divergence, collective defense, and ecological succession. A better understanding of kombucha and other fermented foods may eventually allow us to leverage their pathogen inhibitory properties to develop novel antibiotics and bacteriocins.
Keywords: kombucha, fermentation, microbial ecology, cooperation, model system, symbiosis
Citation: preprint copy of paper on bioRxiv
Study Mailing Address:
Arizona State University
Date Updated: January 20, 2021