Peterson, who is leading the research, is currently in the project’s manufacturing phase after settling on a design during the summer. Once they’ve produced a prototype by using lasers to cut a special plastic, they will begin testing the device and make improvements to the design as needed.

Gile added that the device wouldn’t be limited to microbiologists studying termite hindguts. Theoretically, she said, any microbiologist could adjust the device to aid their research. School of Life Sciences professor Susanne Neuer, who studies microbial communities in the ocean, said she could put the device to use in oceanography.

“The technique is certainly intriguing,” Neuer said. “I imagine I could use it to separate complex protist communities in the ocean to better investigate their role in the degradation of organic matter and the ocean’s carbon cycle.”

Funded by a National Science Foundation Early-Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER), Gile and Peterson hope the device can be used to help microbiologists in many disciplines contribute to foundational science that will allow researchers ask bigger and more complex questions about the microbiome’s impact on the world.

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator, Center for Evolution and Medicine