Microbe hunting with DNA inventorying

Economist.com: An injection of innovation: Vaccinating livestock may be a way to slow global warming

Vaccinating flatulent livestock against greenhouse-gas-producing bacteria is a cute idea, sure, but this part of the article was most interesting to me:

At that point he [Andr�-Denis Wright, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's laboratory in Perth] decided to try a different tack. Instead of restricting himself to those stomach bugs he could grow, he sought to identify the full range of what was there using a new technique called environmental genomics. This trick, pioneered by Craig Venter in the United States, breaks all of the DNA in a sample of liquid from, say, a stomach, up into small pieces. It then sequences each piece to establish the order of the genetic �letters� in it, and uses a computer to fit the pieces back together by matching the overlaps between the sequences of letters. That way, if all goes well, the genomes of the bugs in a sample will emerge from the soup of pieces, and the organisms can be identified without the need to grow them.

The researchers surveyed the microbial populations of 17 sheep stomachs in this way, and revealed several new species of methanogen, including some from a group of archaea not previously known to inhabit digestive tracts.

This kind of broad survey of indigenous microbial flora should be tried on anyone with exceptional health -- octogenarians, survivors of often-fatal diseases, etc. It's likely to find previously-unknown naturally-occurring health-promoting organisms.

Comments: Post a Comment