DOE Joint Genome Institute Genomic Encyclopedia Sheds Light on Microbial Dark Matter


The Genomic Encyclopedia of the Bacteria and Archaea (GEBA) was highlighted in the December 29 Science Times section of the New York Times, following its inaugural publication in the December 24 issue of Nature magazine. These articles focus on efforts to unlock the diversity of microbial communities to benefit DOE mission needs in biofuel production, global carbon storage, and bioremediation. GEBA now includes 56 microbial species whose complete genomes were sequenced by the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, CA. These microbes were selected to NOT be in the well-sampled branches of known microbial life and will thus provide insights into microbial “dark matter,” areas of the vast microbial world where large amounts of unknown biology await exploration. Already, one discovery, a salt-tolerant cellulase enzyme, may have promise for bioenergy applications. Additional value expected from the ongoing GEBA initiative includes better tools for understanding what happens to microbial communities in soils and at waste sites associated with DOE activities. The GEBA project represents a collaborative, international project led by expert scientists but also enlisting assistance from interested undergraduate biologists to help analyze these diverse genomes.