For soil microbiology, it is the best of times. While no one has undertaken an accurate census, a spoonful of soil holds hundreds of billions of microbial cells, encompassing thousands of species. "It's one of the most diverse microbial habitats on Earth, yet we know surprisingly little about the identities and functions of the microbes inhabiting soil," said Jim Tiedje, Distinguished Professor at the Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University. Tiedje, along with MSU colleagues and collaborators from the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), have published the largest soil DNA sequencing effort to date in the March 10, 2014, issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). What has emerged in this first of the studies to come from this project is a simple, elegant solution to sifting through the deluge of information gleaned, as well as a sobering reality check on just how hard a challenge these environments will be.
"The Great Prairie represents the largest expanse of the world's most fertile soils, which makes it important as a reference site and for understanding the biological basis and ecosystem services of its microbial community," said Tiedje. "It sequesters the most carbon of any soil system in the U.S. and produces large amounts of biomass annually, which is key for biofuels, food security, and carbon sequestration. It's an ecosystem that parallels the large ocean gyres in its importance in the world's primary productivity and biogeochemical cycles."
Since the release of the first human genome over a decade ago, the applications of DNA sequencing have been extended as a powerful diagnostic technique for gauging the health of the planet's diverse ecological niches and their responsiveness to change. In this ambitious pilot study launched by the DOE JGI, MSU researchers sought to compare the microbial population
|Contact: David Gilbert|
DOE/Joint Genome Institute