Sometimes it's hard to tell which is hotter, the debate over the concept of microbial species or Yellowstone's thermal springs, from which hail some bacteria central to the discussion.
Species are considered the fundamental units in plant and animal communities. But microbes have several asexual mechanisms for exchanging genetic material, and if this "horizontal gene transfer" is rampant and promiscuous, it might be necessary to rethink the species notion among microbes.
Led by David Ward of Montana State University, an NSF Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research project will gather and analyze DNA from the microbial mats in Yellowstone's heated pools to try and create a complete picture of the bacterial genomes there. The cataloging and comparing of DNA extracted from an environment, a technique called metagenomics, allows researchers to get a sense of whether or not genomes of individual organisms in a community of diverse organisms are organized into species-like populations.
"Resolving this question is one of the greatest challenges in all of science, made possible by a new era of environmental metagenomics methods," said Matt Kane, director of NSF's Microbial Observatories Program. "And where better to conduct this study than Yellowstone? The variety of environmental gradients and habitats probably harbors more microbial diversity than any other single site on our planet."
Lead principal investigator (Montana State University):
Total NSF funding, through August 2008: $4,999,690
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Award abstract: https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/servlet/showaward?award=0328698
The FIBR projects announced today include the following:
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