Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New Window Opens On The Secret Life Of Microbes

Date:
March 14, 2008
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
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.

Coral from Kingman atol (Northern Line Islands). Coral ecosystems were among those profiled by the researchers.
Credit: Forest Rohwe, San Diego State University

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.

Related Articles


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 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.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and described in the March 12, 2008 online issue of Nature.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "New Window Opens On The Secret Life Of Microbes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080313124419.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2008, March 14). New Window Opens On The Secret Life Of Microbes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080313124419.htm
National Science Foundation. "New Window Opens On The Secret Life Of Microbes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080313124419.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

Newsy (Oct. 30, 2014) A frog noticed by a conservationist on New York's Staten Island has been confirmed as a new species after extensive study and genetic testing. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) The lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii was 225 yards from Pahoa Village Road on Wednesday night. The lava is slowing down but still approaching the village. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

AFP (Oct. 29, 2014) At the foot of the rugged Carpathian mountains near the Polish-Ukrainian border, ranchers and scientists are trying to protect the Carpathian pony, known as the Hucul in Polish. Duration: 02:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Mudslide in Sri Lanka Buries Houses

Deadly Mudslide in Sri Lanka Buries Houses

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers' houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving more than 250 missing, an official said. (Oct. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins