Genome Watch Highlights DOE JGI Explorations of Microbial “Dark Matter.”


Adam Walker of the Wellcome Trust’s Sanger Institute has published an analysis of the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute’s (DOE JGI) explorations of “microbial dark matter” metagenomics and single cell genomics. Four recent publications are highlighted, two directly from DOE JGI and two involving past and present collaborators. All used novel technologies to characterize microbes and microbial communities refractory to standard culture in the lab and involved in mission-relevant activities such as bioenergy and bioremediation. Most microbes cannot be readily grown in culture, so they are difficult to study with molecular and genetic approaches that require large amounts of starting genomic material. With the advent of single cell techniques, it is now possible to derive information about the genome of single isolated cells without a cultivation step. Furthermore, with the massive sequencing throughput available at DOE JGI, the DNA from bulk environmental samples can be characterized and a “fingerprint” of the sampled environment can be studied and compared, for example, both before and after perturbations. Even some whole microbial genomes can be assembled from the sequence fragments. These genomes, as noted by Walker, can provide new opportunities for biochemistries relevant to bioenergy, environmental remediation, and carbon and nutrient processing.


Walker, A. 2014. “Adding Genomic ‘Foilage’ to the Tree of Life,” Nature Reviews Microbiology 12, 78. DOI:10.1038/nrmicro3203.