The O’Malley group aspires to solve grand challenges in sustainability and medicine by deciphering how unwieldy microbes in the environment perform extraordinary tasks. They focus on anaerobic microbes, which have evolved to work together in complex communities that decompose and recycle carbon biomass throughout the Earth – from our guts to landfills and compost piles. Despite their importance, little information exists to parse the role of each microbial member within their dynamic community. By understanding natural systems and microbial “connection points” through advances in ‘omics’ technologies, engineers can build new, synthetic microbial partnerships to tailor the behavior of microbial consortia. Similarly, an understanding of how anaerobic microbes defend themselves from neighbors could translate into new antimicrobial compounds for therapeutic use.