Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New Window Opens on the Secret Life of Microbes: Scientists Develop First Microbial Profiles of Ecosystems

Microbial profiles serve as the ecological version of the human genome project

Nowhere is the principle of "strength in numbers" more apparent than in the collective power of microbes: despite their simplicity, these one-cell organisms -- which number about 5 million trillion trillion strong (no, that is not a typo) on Earth -- affect virtually every ecological process, from the decay of organic material to the production of oxygen.

But even though microbes essentially rule the Earth, scientists have never before been able to conduct comprehensive studies of microbes and their interactions with one another in their natural habitats. Now, a new study -- funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and described in the March 12, 2008 online issue of Nature -- provides the first inventories of microbial capabilities in nine very different types of ecosystems, ranging from coral reefs to deep mines.

"These new microbial inventories provide a new and important window into ecosystems and how they respond to stresses, such as pesticide runoff and invasive species," said Lita Proctor, an NSF program director.

Rather than identifying the kinds of microbes that live in each ecosystem, the study catalogued each ecosystem's microbial "know-how," captured in its DNA, for conducting metabolic processes, such as respiration, photosynthesis and cell division. These microbial catalogues are more distinctive than the identities of resident microbes. "Now microbes can be studied by what they can do not who they are," said Proctor.

This microbial study employed the principles of metagenomics, a powerful new method of analysis that characterizes the DNA content of entire communities of organisms rather than individual species. One of the main advantages of metagenomics is that it enables scientists to study microbes -- most of which cannot be grown in the laboratory -- in their natural habitats.

Specifically, the microbial study produced the following results:

A unique, identifying microbial fingerprint for each of nine different types of ecosystems. Each ecosystem's fingerprint was based on its unique suite of microbial capabilities.

Methods for early detection of ecological responses to environmental stresses. Such methods are based on the principle that "microbes grow faster and so respond to environmental stresses more quickly than do other types of organisms," said Forest Rohwer of San Diego State University, a member of the research team. Because microbes are an ecosystem's first-responders, by monitoring changes in an ecosystem's microbial capabilities, scientists can detect ecological responses to stresses earlier than would otherwise be possible -- even before such responses might be visibly apparent in plants or animals, Rohwer said.

Evidence that viruses -- which are known to be ten times more abundant than even microbes -- serve as gene banks for ecosystems. This evidence includes observations that viruses in the nine ecosystems carried large loads of DNA without using such DNA themselves. Rohwer believes that the viruses probably transfer such excess DNA to bacteria during infections, and thereby pass on "new genetic tricks" to their microbial hosts. The study also indicates that by transporting the DNA to new locations, viruses may serve as important agents in the evolution of microbes.

Media Contacts
Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation (703) 292-8310
Lorena Ruggero, San Diego State University (619) 594-3952
Program Contacts
Lita Proctor, National Science Foundation (703) 292-5190
Forest Rohwer, San Diego State University (619) 594-1336

Lily Whiteman | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>