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Darwin's famous finches and Venter's marine microbes

Although the Galápagos finches were to play a pivotal role in the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, he had no inkling of their significance when he collected them during his voyage on the HMS Beagle.

Similarly, it is hard to predict the impact the vast amount of marine microbial DNA ?collected during the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., and his team ?will have on our understanding of the natural world.

"If anything, this is just the beginning," says Gerard Manning, Ph.D., director of the Razavi Newman Center for Bioinformatics at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. "We’re starting to explore this trove of sequences now, but it may be decades before we fully understand it all."

Just like the famous ornithologist John Gould who had to classify the Galápagos finches before they led Darwin on the right track, Manning and many others have been busy during the last couple of months wading through roughly 7.7 million sequenced snippets of sea-borne genomic DNA to impose order on the flood of data and to classify the identified proteins.

Their findings are detailed in series of papers, published in this week’s online edition of the journal Public Library of Science Biology (www.plos.org).

The authors are plying the rapidly emerging trade of metagenomics (also known as environmental genomics) that seeks to examine genomic snapshots taken directly from the environment.

"Metagenomics allows us to sample the 99 percent of all bacteria that won’t grow in the lab," explains Manning. "GOS opens a huge window into biological and genomic diversity and, within this diversity, to better understand many of the fundamentals of biology." he adds.

Expanding the universe of protein families

But instead of whole genomes, metagenomics produces a whole grab bag of bits and pieces for which s
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Source:Salk Institute


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