THOR’s Hammer: Investigating Microbiological Communities

By Annmarie Hoch

While human understanding of microbes and the complex relationships they form has been growing recently, scientists have been trying to find ways to influence these relationships to our advantage. Unfortunately, little is certain about complex microbial interactions, necessitating more research. At the University of Wisconsin, a community of three types of bacteria (called THOR) was studied to investigate these interactions. The researchers discovered that living in a community allowed the bacteria to exhibit new useful behaviors. The THOR bacteria get their name from their reputation as “The Hitchhikers of the Rhizosphere” because they follow other bacteria when those are isolated from soybean roots. The researchers suspected these bacteria would prove to be interesting subjects due to this behavior. They were right. The THOR community produced a large quantity of and more resilient biofilm (which protects bacteria) than one bacterial species could on its own. The different species protected each other from each’s harmful effects. The THOR community will be useful as a model for how microbiomes can be influenced to help humans, but it will also be useful for investigating the bacterial communities in plant roots. This is interesting in the context of climate change and erosion and should be investigated further. The THOR investigation has widened the potential of microbiomes being used to help human health.


University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2019, March 8). THOR wrangles complex microbiomes into a model for improving them. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 15, 2019 from