The Earth is estimated to have about a nonillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) microbes in, on, around, and under it, comprised of an unknown but very large number of distinct species. Despite the widespread availability of microbial genome data—close to 2,000 microbes have been and are being decoded to date—a vast unknown realm awaits scientists intent on exploring microorganisms that inhabit this “undiscovered country.”
Two thousand years after Pliny the Elder compiled one of the earliest surviving encyclopedic works, and in the spirit of his goal of providing “light to the obscure,” the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has published the initial “volume” of the Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea (GEBA). Presenting a provocative glimpse into this uncharted territory, an analysis of the first 56 genomes representing two of the three domains of the tree of life appears in the December 24 edition of the journal Nature.
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