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Scientists coax shy microorganisms to stand out in a crowd

aeota might serve as a kind of cleanup crew after diatoms, another ocean microorganism, bloom and die.

"Ocean microorganisms are regulators of large biogeochemical cycles so we need to understand the different members of those communities," Armbrust said. "As we change coastal communities for better or for worse we need to understand the players that are there."

The genome also clarified the origin of a gene that allows marine group II Euryarchaeota, as well as many marine bacteria, to harvest energy directly from sunlight, with no photosynthesis involved.

The approach advanced by the UW team isn't just useful for studying microorganisms in the oceans, but also for those found in soils and algal communities with potential for biofuels, or for understanding emerging strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human or animal health, Iverson said. The UW approach takes less time and money.

"Having to culture things to sequence them is an extra step and time consuming if they're difficult to culture," he said. "It becomes a chicken and egg problem. If you have never been able to study it, you don't know what it needs. But in order to study it, you must provide the environment in the lab that it requires."

"If microbiologists can get the DNA directly and sequence it without having to culture it, that's a big advantage."

Metagenomics extracting DNA from whole microbial communities and sequencing it to reveal genes has been used for about a decade with marine microorganisms. Sequencing equipment and methods have leapt forward since then, thanks to many researchers and companies, the UW scientists said.

But previous techniques allowed scientists to reconstruct an organism's genome only if the organism made up a third or more of a sample. The UW team showed how to construct the genome of marine group II Euryarchaeota even though it comprised only 7 percent of the cells found in 100 liters o

Contact: Sandra Hines
University of Washington

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