Microbial communities drive matter and energy transformations through distributed networks of metabolite exchange that can be reprogrammed though viral infection. In this light, individual microorganisms function as information processing units implementing a distributed genetic algorithm manifested in biologically driven redox reactions on a planetary scale. A core set of genes that evolved early in the history of life are responsible for driving integral biogeochemical processes such as carbon, nitrogen and iron cycles through largely defined metabolic pathways. This proposal aims to develop a scalable process for charting global biogeochemical cycles using fast phylogenetic mapping of functional anchor genes. Representative functional gene sequences encoding diagnostic steps in these pathways can be assembled into a phylogenetic framework that provides information on the distribution, abundance and taxonomic origin of environmental sequences. The resulting trees and data products will provide a framework for developing molecular tools with which to probe and enrich for microbial agents driving selected environmental transformations and inform gene-centric modeling efforts to predict microbial community responses to environmental perturbation.
Proposer: Steven Hallam, University of British Columbia (Canada)
Proposal: Charting Global Biogeochemical Cycles using Fast Phylogenetic Mapping of Functional Anchor Genes