Metagenomics and Microbial Communities

Abstract

Metagenomics is the genomic analysis of microbial communities. This new science provides access to organisms that are recalcitrant to culturing, as are the vast majority of microorganisms on Earth. Metagenomics thereby offers a first peek at the wide variety of life that has never been studied, thus providing new insight into the structure and function of ecosystems as diverse as the oceans and the human gastrointestinal tract.

Keywords: metagenomics; microbial ecology; microbial communities; unculturable; biotechnology

Figure 1.

Examples of services provided by microorganisms. Clockwise from top: microorganisms in the sea remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce oxygen; the ozone layer in the stratosphere, which protects Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays, was created by the reaction of oxygen molecules produced on the early Earth by microbes; the human body contains more bacterial cells than human cells and most of these live in the gastrointestinal tract; certain bacteria convert dinitrogen gas to ammonia in special structures on the roots of leguminous plants; soil bacteria are the source of most of the antibiotics and many other drugs used in medicine today; microbes ferment many foods; centre, microorganisms come in many shapes and sizes. Graphic: Nicolle Rager Fuller.

Figure 2.

Construction and analysis of metagenomic libraries. Graphic: Nicolle Rager Fuller.

Figure 3.

(a) Tube worms containing bacterial symbionts. Courtesy: National Science Foundation (Courtesy: National Science Foundation). (b) Bacterial symbionts inside the tube worm (Courtesy of Colleen M Cavanaugh). See also

Figure 4.

DNA cloned from soil confers many traits on E. coli. (a) Left plate contains no antibiotics, right plate contains β‐lactam antibiotic. Clone ‘C’ carries a gene from the soil metagenome that makes E. coli resistant to the β‐lactam antibiotic. (b) Clone on left contains no heterologous DNA. The other four clones carry DNA fragments from soil metagenomic that confer on E. coli the ability to produce pigments. Photos: Heather Allen and Lynn Williamson.

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Further Reading

Delong EF (2007) Sea change for metagenomics? Nature Reviews Microbiology 5: 326.

Handelsman J (2004) Metagenomics: application of genomics to uncultured microorganisms. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews 68: 669–685.

Rohwer F (2007) Phage metagenomics. Annual Review of Genetics 41: doi:10.1146/annurev.genet.40.110405.090628.

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How to Cite close
Handelsman, Jo(Dec 2007) Metagenomics and Microbial Communities. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020367]