alohse at asmusa.org alohse at asmusa.org
Wed Oct 16 17:04:12 EDT 2002


Washington D.C.--Microbes have dominated life on Earth for most of its 4.5 billion year history. They outnumber all other living things, inhabit every imaginable environment and control the biological, geological, and chemical cycles that shape the planet and make life possible. Knowledge of the microbial world promises medical and agricultural breakthroughs, improved understanding of evolution, methods for protecting the environment and ways of predicting global change. This scientific revolution is not only underway, but ready for its next steps, a new report from the American Academy of Microbiology says. 
"Microbial Ecology and Genomics: A Crossroads of Opportunity," recommends an agenda to advance scientific understanding of the incredible diversity, complex organization and crucial interactions of microbial organisms and their environments. Ecogenomics, the intersection of ecology and genome science, focuses on analyzing microbial systems at many levels of biocomplexity-single cells, communities, and entire ecosystems. The goal is to examine the real environmental contexts where genomes evolve and shed light on the communities that control the biogeochemical cycles sustaining the biosphere.  
Technology has made "watching" the microbial world in action possible like never before.  Better and faster genome sequencing, DNA microarrays, and the bioinformatics methods that store and manipulate massive amounts of data have produced an explosion of information. Culture-independent molecular techniques have revealed unexplored worlds in geothermal vents, cold oceans, soils, animal digestive tracts, and even the human mouth. It is now recognized that the microbial world is so vast that the majority of microbes have never been cultured and characterized. Advanced technologies can provide the tools for research that goes beyond identifying uncultured microbes and decoding genomes, the report says,  to answer central questions about the origin and ongoing development of life.    				The  report presents the conclusions of thirty (30) prominent scientists with expertise in microbiology, informatics, biostatistics, genomics, ecology and systematics.  Issues outlined include the possibility of redefining microbial families, genera, and species based on genomic information; the implications of horizontal gene transfer; the factors driving microbial speciation; and the biochemical contributions of microbial communities. The document makes recommendations for a 10-year plan of developing new methods, outreach and training and specific research programs that will integrate genomics with microbial systematics, evolution and ecology.
The American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) is an honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) whose mission is to recognize excellence and foster knowledge in the microbiological sciences. Its programs include convening critical issues colloquia and developing consensus-building position papers that provide expert scientific opinion on current and emerging issues in microbiology. 
AAM reports can be downloaded for free: http://www.asmusa.org/acasrc/academy.htm For more information and to get a hard copy of  "Microbial Ecology and Genomics: A Crossroads of Opportunity,"  contact Andrea Lohse at the American Academy of Microbiology (202)942-9292 or alohse at asmusa.org.

Andrea Lohse
Manager, American Academy of Microbiology
American Society for Microbiology
1752 N Street, NW
Washington DC  20036
alohse at asmusa.org

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