If you want to appreciate the diversity of life on earth, you will need a microscope….Yet scientists still know very little about our microbial planet. The genomes of only about 1,000 species of microbes have been sequenced. That leaves 99.99999 percent to go. Making matters worse, the genomes scientists have sequenced so far are clustered together in groups of closely related species, leaving vast stretches of the microbial tree of life virtually unexplored. It would be as if all we knew about the animal kingdom were based entirely on a stuffed ferret and a pickled tarantula.To shed light on this enormous stretch of biological darkness, the Joint Genome Institute at the Energy Department has started what it calls a “genomic encyclopedia.” It is filling the encyclopedia with the genomes of microbes from remote reaches of the tree of life.In the Dec. 24 issue of Nature, Dr. Klenk and his colleagues present their first analysis of the encyclopedia, based on the first 56 species they have sequenced. Using this new evolution-based approach, the scientists have discovered many kinds of genes, some of which may prove a boon to the biotechnology industry.
Read more of the New York Times’ article.