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In Walnut Creek: “An Entirely New Level Of Microbiology”

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Joint Genome Project

Lost amid the sordid and sundry news which dominated the headlines this past week was news of a significant step forward in researcher’s efforts to put more “leaves” on the bare branches of the tree of life. A developing technology for analyzing genomes – every living organism’s fundamental DNA makeup – made news in Walnut Creek over the weekend and a paper detailing the advancement was published Sunday in Nature.

The work was spearheaded by Tanja Woyke, a microbiologist at the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, and used single-cell sequencing to read the genomes of “201 bacterial and archaeal cells taken from nine diverse environments, such as hydrothermal vents and an underground gold mine.” None of the organisms had ever been sequenced or cultivated in a laboratory.

“This is an astounding paper,” Norman Pace, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado–Boulder, told Nature. “The achievement of hundreds of genome sequences from single cells at a shot is an entirely new level of microbiology.”

Single-cell sequencing enables scientists to decipher the genome of just one cell by amplifying its DNA by 1-billion-fold, opening the way to studying ‘microbial dark matter’. These are organisms that have been discovered through methods such as metagenomics studies — which examine batches of micro-organisms living in a common environment — but are difficult or impossible to grow in the lab, Nature’s Erika Check Hayden wrote in detailing the work on Sunday.

News24-680 happens to know we count some scientists among our readership ranks. We thought this news of a quiet advancement in microbiology would be of interest and perhaps instill some conversation within the local scientific community.