11/03/2017 | short news | Juliane Lutze

The Microbiome of our Earth

Joining forces to track down the little ones: A huge international research collaboration catalogued the planet’s microbial diversity at unprecedented scale and compiled the world's first reference database of bacteria colonising our planet.

Swabbing DNA off bird eggshells in Spain. | Photo: Juan M. Peralta-Sánchez

Bacteria, fungi, microscopic algae and other single-cell organisms are the protagonists of microbial life on earth – they are the microbiome of our planet. Although they are omnipresent, the scientific understanding of microorganisms and their relationships to the environment is still incomplete. That is why the Earth Microbiome Project (EMP) was launched in 2010 – a huge crowdsourcing campaign involving over 500 researchers from all over the world. Among the contributors were also several IGB scientists sampling six different lakes each month, some of them over a period of ten years. The (first) results of this cooperation network were now published in the renowned journal Nature.

The researchers used DNA-analyses to examine the respective microbial composition of more than 27,000 samples from 43 countries on 7 continents. The information gained was used to create the world's first reference database of bacteria colonising our planet. Using this database, in more than 90 percent of all cases samples can now be assigned to specific habitats in the world, based on their particular microbiome. Next to forensic specialists also ecologists benefit from the data collected: specific microbial communities give an exact image of the state of an ecosystem, for instance a lake. Through the existence of such indicator organisms the scientists can conclude on potential water contamination, for example by toxins.

Read the complete study in Nature >

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