A team of MIT researchers led by Professors Edward DeLong and Penny Chisholm is trying to change that.
Borrowing gene sequencing tools developed for sequencing the human genome, the researchers have devised a new method to analyze gene expression in complex microbial populations. The work could help scientists better understand how oceans respond to climate change.
"This project can help us get a better handle on the specific details of how microbes affect the flux of energy and matter on Earth, and how microbes respond to environmental change," said DeLong, a professor of biological engineering and civil and environmental engineering.
Their technique, which has already yielded a few surprising discoveries, is reported in the March 3 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
said DeLong, who is research coordinator for C-MORE.
The MIT team gathers microbe samples from the waters off Hawaii, in a part of the ocean known as the North Pacific Gyre.
Each liter of ocean water they collect contains up to a billion bacterial cells. For several years, researchers have been sequencing the DNA found in those bacteria, creating large databases of prevalent marine microbial genes found in the environment.
However, those DNA sequences alone cannot reveal which genes the bacteria are actually using in their day-to-day activities, or when they are expressing them."It's a lot of information, and it's hard to know where to start,"
To figure out which genes are expressed, DeLong and colleagues sequenced the messenger RNA (mRNA) produced by the cells living in complex microbial communities. mRNA carries instructions to the protein-building machinery of the cell, so if there is a lot of mRNA corresponding to a particular gene, it means that gene is highly expressed.
The new technique requires the researchers to convert bacterial mRNA to eukaryotic (non-bacterial) DNA, which can be more easily amplified and sequenced. They then use sequencing technology that is fast enough to analyze hundreds of millions of DNA base pairs in a day.
Once the sequences of highly expressed mRNA are known, the researchers can compare them with DNA sequences in the database of bacterial genes and try to figure out which genes are key players and what their functions are.
The team found some surprising patterns of gene expression, DeLong said. For example, about half of the mRNA sequences found are not similar to any previously known bacterial genes.
Lead authors of the paper are Jorge Frias-Lopez, research scientist in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), and CEE graduate student Yanmei Shi. Maureen Coleman, graduate student in CEE, Gene Tyson, postdoctoral associate in CEE, and Stephan Schuster of Pennsylvania State University also authored the paper with Chisholm and DeLong.
Written by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells
19.07.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY
NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences