fold higher than that obtained by traditional microbiological culturing techniques. Among the cultured organisms are many unique cell lineages that will be named as new species and genera by microbial systematists. Ninety percent of the cells recovered by the project in these early experiments do not replicate in Petri dishes of agar media, the most common method of microbial cell cultivation.


Claire M. Fraser, Ph.D.

President, The Institute for Genomic Research

The genomics revolution has provided the DNA sequence for nearly 60 microbial species and a number of important animal and plant species, including human. This information provides the foundation from which a new, comprehensive, and profound understanding of the biology of living systems, the history of life on earth, and the role of genes in disease and disease susceptibility can emerge. Genome-enabled studies on microbial species have revealed new insights about mechanisms of microbial evolution, novel metabolic capabilities, novel approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of infectious disease, and potential biological solutions to environmental remediation and alternative energy sources. Genome sequencing still remains the most robust method for assessing the overall gene complement of any organism, and as costs for DNA sequencing have dramatically decreased, the possibility of using this approach to study new species and microbial populations has become more realistic. It is important to keep in mind that all the work done to date in microbial genomics has focused on species that can be cultured in the laboratory or grown in animal cells. However, uncultured species, particularly from the marine environment, should be a priority for future genomic studies, and the technology now exists to allow us to think about microbial-community genomic projects. One of the most profound lessons that we have learned from the genomics revolution is how little we actually understand about the biology of life on earth. With these immense data sets in hand, we will now be able to pursue avenues of research that were impossible just a few years ago. Although the benefits of this new understanding are apparent, the path forward is formidable. This goal will require the marriage of pow-

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