Semiarid ecosystems are threatened by global warming due to longer dehydration times and increasing soil degradation. Mounting evidence indicates that, given the current trends, drylands are likely to expand while crossing several aridity thresholds, including catastrophic shifts from vegetated to desert states. Here, I present a recent suggestion based on the concept of ecosystem terraformation, where a synthetic organism is used to counterbalance some of the nonlinear effects causing the presence of such tipping points. Using models incorporating facilitation and considering a simplification, we investigate how engineered microorganisms can shape the fate of these ecosystems. We show that small modifications enhancing cooperative loops can effectively protect drylands from experiencing critical transitions. Additionally, we will discuss the concept of “ecological firewalls” as a communitylevel containment phenomenon that can act as an effective limit to the spread of the synthetic microbial strain and about future prospects for experimental implementations of this bioengineering approach.
Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program