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Microbes, by latitudes and altitudes, shed new light on life's diversity
Date:8/11/2008

Microbial biologists, including the University of Oregon's Jessica L. Green, may not have Jimmy Buffett's music from 1977 in mind, but they are changing attitudes about evolutionary diversity on Earth, from oceanic latitudes to mountainous altitudes.

In two recent National Science Foundation-funded papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Green and colleagues show that temperature, not productivity, primarily drives the richness of bacterial diversity in the oceans, and that life, both plant and microbial, by altitude in the Rocky Mountains may be close, but not exactly, to what biologists have theorized for years.

Swedish naturalist and botanist Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy who died in 1778, proposed that the planet once was covered by oceans, except for Paradise Island on the equator, and that all organisms emerged from the island and migrated as waters receded. More than a century later, microbiologist Lourens G.M. Bass Becking in the 1930s wrote that "everything is everywhere, but the environment selects."

"What's interesting to me," said Green, a professor of biology and member of the UO Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, "is that the founders of these disciplines envisioned the same thing: That you have this broad dispersal of all of the organisms that each happened to be studying, and that they would colonize the surface of the Earth depending on whether the environment was suitable for them."

In the last decade, microbial biology, using molecular techniques, has changed everything, Green said in an interview about the two PNAS papers and an extensive review of microbial biogeography in the May 23 issue of the journal Science. She was lead author on the Science paper.

"Before now, all biologists could do was look at the biodiversity of microbes that could be cultured in a petri dish. We now know that the vast majority of microbial life cannot be kept in c
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Contact: Jim Barlow
jebarlow@uoregon.edu
541-346-3481
University of Oregon
Source:Eurekalert  

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