Humans live in the midst of a seething, breathing microbial world. Microorganisms populate every conceivable habitat, both familiar and exotic, from the surface of the human skin, to rainforest floors, to hydrothermal vents in the ocean floors.
Despite the powerful and pervasive role of microbes in sustaining life, most of the microbial world remains a mystery. This is the subject of The Uncharted Microbial World: Microbes and Their Activities in the Environment, a new report released by the American Academy of Microbiology.
The report is the result of a colloquium convened by the American Academy of Microbiology in February 2007. Researchers in microbiology, marine science, pathobiology, evolutionary biology, medicine, engineering, and other fields discussed ways to build on and extend recent successes in microbiology, and the report is a record of their discussions and recommendations.
Microbes fulfill many functions that make life on Earth possible. They are the engines behind the global biogeochemical cycles that release oxygen and absorb greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They recycle dead material into useful nutrients for new growth. They influence food webs, bioenergy production, waste management and treatment, food production, and symbiotic nitrogen fixation for plants.
"As the number of people on the planet grows, reliance on microorganisms to perform these critical tasks will grow as well," says Carrie Harwood of the University of Washington, one of the report's authors. "The stakes are high, and we need to accelerate the pace of discovery."
Because microbes play so many roles in so many environments, they hold incredible potential for industry, agriculture, and medicine. Bioprospecting has already opened the door to many commercial applications -- including probiotics, biofuels, and wastewater treatment. The wealth of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that have yet to be cultivated or underst
|Contact: Peggy McNult|
American Society for Microbiology