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Systems microbiology has great scientific promise in health and environment


The explosion of data from microbial genome sequencing has sparked intense new interest in the field of systems microbiology. Systems microbiology treats microorganisms or microbial communities as a whole, integrating fundamental biological knowledge with genomics and other data to create an integrated picture of how a microbial cell or community operates.

According to a new report, "Systems Microbiology: Beyond Microbial Genomics," released by the American Academy of Microbiology, "Potential applications of systems microbiology research range from improvements in the management of bacterial infections to the development of commercial-scale microbial hydrogen generation."

The report is based on the findings of a colloquium convened by the Academy in Portland, Oregon, in June 2004. A group of distinguished scientists gathered to examine the power of applying a systems approach to microbiology, which focuses on the properties of microorganisms that emerge from the interaction of genes, proteins, other molecules, cell organelles, and the environment.

"The broad aim of systems microbiology is to acquire an understanding of the wiring diagrams of life--to grasp the relationships between the individual components that build an organism or a community," according to Colloquium Co-Chair, James K. Fredrickson, of Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, Richland, Washington. "Microorganisms, the most abundant organisms on Earth, are ideal candidates for systems biology research because they are relatively easy to manipulate and because they play critical roles in health, environment, agriculture, and energy production."

The report recommends that professionals engaged in systems microbiology research develop more collaborative research efforts. "Specialists need to be knowledgeable in their own field, but they must have sufficient knowledge of the other areas of the project to be able to contribute fully," says Timothy J. Donohue, Co-Chair of the Colloquium Steering Committee, of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The report points out the single most critical need for systems microbiology is a centralized database to enable rapid submission and retrieval of data and to expedite access to information from diverse areas of research.

Continued systems microbiology research will provide the tools and approaches necessary for achieving a better understanding of life and ecosystems, especially the properties of microorganisms that cannot be studied in traditional laboratory settings, according to the report. The report also identifies technical challenges and contains recommendations for overcoming barriers to progress and for improving opportunities in systems microbiology education and communication.

Angelo R. Bouselli | EurekAlert!
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