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Exploring the genomes of Monterey Bay microbes-a look into the dark (or light) side

Oded Beja, Ph.D.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Friday, June 22, 2001
12:00 Noon–Pacific Forum

Environmental microbial genomics or Ecogenomics is a new emerging field that enables us to look at parts of the ocean that were, until recently, masked to us. With present estimates suggesting that >99% of the microorganisms in most environments are not amenable to growth in pure culture, thus very little is known about their physiology and roles in the ocean. These organisms can, however, be categorized into phylotypes according to their ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes, which can be amplified directly from environmental DNA extracts, cloned, and sequenced. Although this approach has provided information on the identity and distribution of microbial species, rRNA gene sequences alone do not reveal the physiology, biochemistry, or ecological function of uncultivated microorganisms. This problem can be now bypassed by accessing the genomes of these microorganisms and identifying protein coding genes and biochemical pathways that will shed some light on their physiological properties and ecological function.

Recent developments in the newly emerging field of 'ecological genomics', and new discoveries resulting from our studies in Monterey Bay and the world's oceans, will be discussed.

Next: Expulsion of methane gas through sediment waves in a large methane hydrate province