Nature Interviews DOE Joint Genome Institute Scientist on Metagenomics


On the tenth anniversary of the coining of the term metagenomics, two leading scientists affiliated with the DOE-Joint Genome Institute (JGI), Phil Hugenholtz (UC Berkeley and the DOE-JGI) and Gene Tyson (MIT), were interviewed in the Q & A section of the September 25 issue of Nature. Metagenomics is the science of sequencing and analyzing the composite genome of a microbial community, the way microbes are commonly found and work in nature. Hugenholtz and Tyson pioneered microbial community sequencing, first studying a biofilm from an acid mine drainage site in Northern California and recently the microbial community in the hind gut of the wood-digesting termite.  By employing the techniques of metagenomics we can go beyond the identification of specific players to creating an inventory of the genes in that environment, said Hugenholtz. The promise of metagenomics is that microbial communities carrying out DOE mission relevant processes (bioenergy production, waste cleanup, carbon processing) can now be studied at their genomic level. This knowledge can lead to inventories of genes and proteins and their metabolic potentials that are present in these communities, as well as studies of how these change over time, how they are impacted by human activities, and how we can use them to further DOE mission needs.