Health is not just human—we are a microcosm of Earth’s ecology. Our research encompasses ecosystems beyond the human body. We founded SeedLabs to develop novel applications of bacteria to enhance biodiversity and recover ecosystems impacted by human activity.

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01Carbon Dioxide

Could a volcanic microbe steward the future of carbon capture on Earth and in space?

Humanity’s two greatest frontiers—oceans and space—have much in common; one of their similarities being carbon dioxide (CO₂). 

The majority of the Earth's atmospheric CO₂ is absorbed into the ocean.¹ As humans increase fossil fuel usage, deforestation, and other industrial processes, there’s even greater production of CO₂—and it’s changing the ocean’s chemistry at an unprecedented rate. As this excess CO₂ dissolves into our oceans, it reduces the pH, leading to ocean acidification and disrupting ecologically and economically critical marine processes. By the end of this century, the ocean is expected to be 150% more acidic² than it is now, making it one of the greatest threats to global marine life, quickly becoming considered one of climate change’s “silent killers.”³

However, excessive CO2 is a challenge faced by humanity everywhere we go—including space. The major biochemical waste product of humans in enclosed biosphere or life support systems in space is CO₂; the CO₂ exhaled by astronauts during space flight (i.e., on the International Space Station) can result in health problems, from headaches to hypercapnia. To survive in increasingly hostile and extreme environments we need ways to capture this carbon and convert it into resources needed to survive. 

Enter the Two Frontiers Project (2FP). Founded by Dr. Braden Tierney alongside a global team of microbiologists, 2FP is an expedition-based research initiative devoted to “scientifically exploring” humanity’s greatest frontiers: the oceans and space. This team searches for solutions—usually in the form of microbes adapted to extreme conditions—to major societal challenges, like climate change, coral bleaching, or interplanetary survival. Specifically, their flagship initiative aims to discover carbon eating microbes living in extreme environments across the planet. 

The 2FP takes advantage of a key aspect of microbial physiology: their ability to survive just about anywhere, living off whatever resources are available. Microbes have been evolving on the planet for 3.6 billion years, further optimizing their physiology with every round of cell division. The founding members of the 2FP hypothesized that the places on Earth with the highest CO2, therefore, would house organisms best at eating it.

To date, the 2FP has completed two research expeditions labeled CARBON1 and CARBON2. 

CARBON1 took place at the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily to sample microbial life in the volcanic, highly acidic hydrothermal vents near the small volcano Vulcano. The research team was able to isolate cyanobacteria that are more efficient at carbon capture than their best-in-class industry competitors.

CARBON2 traversed the state of Colorado—a state famous for its hot and carbonated springs —to collect, sequence, and culture microbial samples from deep in the Rocky Mountains. With Oxford Nanopore's MinION, the team carried out a novel approach for sequencing DNA in the field and designing enrichment media onsite for targeted isolation of carbon-capture-efficient microbes. 

Status of Research 

Learn more about the research at Two Frontiers Project

Braden Tierney

Krista Ryon

Ashley Kleinman

Jeremy Wain Hirschberg

Chris Mason

Marco Milazzo

Paola Quatrini

Davide Spatafora

Gabrielle Turco

James Henriksen

Ted Chavkin

George Church

Max Schubert

¹ Global Ocean Absorbing More Carbon. (2019, March 15). National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). 

² What is Ocean Acidification? (n.d.). Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (PMEL) at NOAA. 

³ Preparing for ocean acidification, a silent killer of climate change. (2023, March 29).


What if a microbe could help change the future of plastic?

The UN has called the accumulation of plastics in the environment a planetary crisis with up to 12 million tonnes entering the oceans every year alone. We are finding microplastics in the environment, man-made islands of trash crowding the ocean, and even a layer of accumulating space trash in our atmosphere. Recycling isn’t enough to fix the plastic crisis—we need new solutions for cleaning up waste. 

In collaboration with MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, and Weill Cornell Medicine, we’re testing an autonomous system (a bioreactor) that degrades single-use polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic and upcycles it into a new, environmentally benign material (‘new plastic’). 

The system first introduces PET to a specialized enzyme, which breaks it down into organic compounds, then utilizes a bioengineered bacterial strain—Pseudomonas putida—to convert these compounds into β-ketoadipic acid (BKA)—a high performance nylon monomer which can then be 3D printed into various objects for Earth and space (think: sneakers, shirts, chairs, even a spacesuit). 

Aboard SpaceX CRS-26, the bioreactor was transported to the International Space Station to understand the impacts of unique stressors within the ISS on the bacteria’s upcycling abilities. Microgravity and radiation at the space station will act as catalysts for sustained, enhanced bioactivity, allowing for more efficient biological upcycling. Once in-orbit, the autonomous system will proceed with the pre-programmed experiment schedule, enabling culturing and data collection on the effect of spaceflight on microbes without need for human intervention or astronaut resources for one month and then return to Earth. 

Beyond applications for waste management on Earth, microbes’ versatile upcycling capabilities offer a promising tool for the future of space exploration. As we move towards prolonged space flight and continued exploration of the cosmos, the open-source system has the potential to enable increased access to synthetic biology experiments and applications in spaceflight that will ultimately enable resource-sustainability in space travel.

Status of Research 

Currently, the system is aboard the International Space Station and will return to Earth in December 2022 for further study.

Research Collaborators

Xin Liu • MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative 

Pat Pataranutaporn • MIT Media Lab

Allison Z Werner • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Benjamin Fram • Harvard Medical School

Nicholas Gauthier • Harvard Medical School

Braden Tierney • Weill Cornell Medicine

Krista A Ryon • Weill Cornell Medicine

Ariel Ekbaw • MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative

03Honey Bees

Probiotics to improve honey bee immune resilience and protect against the harmful effects of pesticides, climate change, disease, and habitat loss.

Research Collaborators
Gregor Reid, PhD, MBA
Gregor Reid, PhD, MBA
Scientific Board Member
Brendan A. Daisley, PhD
Brendan A. Daisley, PhD
SeedLabs Fellow

Could beneficial microbes help save honey bees?

The honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) is one of our most vital insect pollinators, responsible for nearly a third of our global food crops.¹ Yet widespread pesticide use, along with climate change, disease, and habitat loss, have contributed to a stark reduction in honey bee populations over the past decade.²

SeedLab’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid, and SeedLabs Fellow, Dr. Brendan Daisley, identified three probiotic strains—Lactiplantibacillus plantarum Lp39, Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus GR-1, and Apilactobacillus kunkeei BR-1—with the potential to improve innate immune response, provide resistance against infection, and reduce the use of toxic pesticides.³
So, we developed The BioPatty™, formulated with these three probiotic strains and delivered it to A. mellifera hives.

Early results are promising. Hives that administered the BioPatty™ showed a significantly lower pathogen load in both adult bees and in larvae than those without. Initial field trial observations were then reproduced in laboratory experiments, indicating that our three-strain probiotic could improve honey bee survival against Paenibacillus larvae infection, directly inhibit P. larvae cells in vitro, and modulate innate immunity when an infection was experimentally triggered.

Status of Research

Currently, Dr. Reid and Dr. Daisley are working to evaluate delivery methods that would allow beekeepers flexibility in application. Additionally, they and collaborators are continuing field studies to assess the impact of the microbial consortium on bee health, survival, and immunity.

¹ Lactobacillus spp. attenuate antibiotic-induced immune and microbiota dysregulation in honey bees Brendan A. Daisley, Andrew P. Pitek, John A. Chmiel, Shaeley Gibbons, Anna M. Chernyshova, Kait F. Al, Kyrillos M. Faragalla, Jeremy P. Burton, Graham J. Thompson & Gregor Reid Commun Biol 3, 534 (2020).

² Missing Microbes in Bees: How Systematic Depletion of Key Symbionts Erodes Immunity

Brendan A. Daisley, John A. Chmiel, Andrew P. Pitek, Graham J. Thompson, Gregor Reid
Trends in Microbiology, S0966-842X(20)30185-2; (2020).

³ Novel probiotic approach to counter Paenibacillus larvae infection in honey bees
Brendan A. Daisley, Andrew P. Pitek, John A. Chmiel, Kait F. Al, Anna M. Chernyshova, Kyrillos M. Faragalla, Jeremy P. Burton, Graham J. Thompson, Gregor Reid The ISME Journal, 14(2), 476–491; (2020).


Probiotics for corals—working to increase the resilience of this fragile ecosystem.

Research Collaborators
Raquel Peixoto, PhD, MSc
Raquel Peixoto, PhD, MSc
Scientific Advisor

Could microbiome manipulation and probiotics prevent coral bleaching?

Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. They sustain 25% of marine life, yet their function in the economics, health, and protection of human ecosystems is equally vital. Changing environmental conditions—rising water temperatures, pollution, ocean acidification—have greatly affected the homeostasis of coral reefs worldwide. 

Coral is a holobiont, a home to many other species living in or around it, which together form a discrete ecological unit.¹ When coral is bleached or infected with a disease, it harms and exposes its inhabitants—algal symbionts, and a variety of bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses—which, in turn, negatively impacts all other biomes and their resident organisms. 

We are working with Dr. Raquel Peixoto, an Associate Professor of Marine Science at KAUST, to understand the benefit of probiotic bacteria for the prevention of coral bleaching, enhancing coral calcification, and aiding in coral growth and resilience. Our collaboration also includes the development of innovative technologies for probiotic delivery to reef systems. 

Status of Research 

Field testing has begun in the Red Sea and additional collaborations are underway to expand testing to other sites, metagenomic sequencing and delivery technology testing.

¹ Margulis, Lynn; Fester, René (1991). "Symbiosis as a Source of Evolutionary Innovation". MIT Press. ISBN 9780262132695.