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Bioinformatics technology developed at Argonne provides new insight into microbial activities
Date:3/14/2008

ARGONNE, Ill. (March 14, 2008) -- Scientists may gain a new insight into the relationship between viruses and their environments thanks to a new computational technology developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energys (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. This technology has already been used to identify subtle differences in the metabolic processes of microbial communities.

The ability to determine such differences may help scientists detect environmental changes at early stages and identify previously unknown pathways for treating disease.

The researchers analyzed the frequency distribution of more than 14 million microbial and viral sequences from almost 90 different ecological communities, called metagenomes. By doing so, they hoped to produce a biological profile for the samples taken from diverse environments ranging from underground mines to sea and fresh water.

Metagenomics enables the DNA from all microbes to be sequenced at once, without any culturing, said Robert Edwards, a computational biologist at Argonne and San Diego State University and one of the projects principal investigators. Such an approach was impossible even a decade ago.

While the researchers had expected to find similar lifestyles among the viral metagenomes in every environment, they instead found that the metagenomes have distinctive metabolic profiles. Researchers may be able to use these profiles in the future to answer questions about the viral dynamics in, for example, the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients.

Argonne has become a world leader in metagenomics, said Edwards. The bioinformatics technology developed by Argonne researchers and their collaborators is being used by hundreds of researchers worldwide. This work demonstrates the practical basis for the multimillion-dollar effort by the National Institutes of Health to understand the benign and malign roles of microbes in health and disease.

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Contact: Steve McGregor
smcgregor@anl.gov
630-252-5580
DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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