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

17.03.2008
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 lwhitema@nsf.gov
Lorena Ruggero, San Diego State University (619) 594-3952 lnava@mail.sdsu.edu
Program Contacts
Lita Proctor, National Science Foundation (703) 292-5190 lproctor@nsf.gov
Co-Investigators
Forest Rohwer, San Diego State University (619) 594-1336 forest@sunstroke.sdsu.edu

Lily Whiteman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Bioinvasion on the rise
15.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz

nachricht Litter Levels in the Depths of the Arctic are On the Rise
10.02.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

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: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's fermi finds possible dark matter ties in andromeda galaxy

22.02.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Wintering ducks connect isolated wetlands by dispersing plant seeds

22.02.2017 | Life Sciences

Impacts of mass coral die-off on Indian Ocean reefs revealed

21.02.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>