Research into genomes of the natural world took a step forward this week with the announcement from Diversa corporation that it is to jointly collaborate with the US Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) to discover and sequence novel microbial genomes found in a diverse range of habitats.
Under the collaboration, Diversa will use its proprietary technologies to extract DNA from environmental samples and make gene libraries, while JGI will perform DNA sequencing.
All DNA sequence data from the collaboration will be provided to Diversa and deposited in GenBank within six months of the completion of sequencing to allow public access by scientists around the world.
"The microbial world is the next genomic frontier," commented JGI director Eddy Rubin. "The human genome has been sequenced, and now we're ready to tackle the larger and more complex challenge of sequencing microbial diversity."
Rubin is optimistic that the scientific, environmental, and commercial benefits from the project will be considerable. Commenting on the JGI partner,Rubin added : "We're pleased to be working with Diversa, a company that has clearly demonstrated leadership in legally and efficiently accessing the vast microbial diversity present in the environment."
Diversa CEO and president referred to the upcoming challenge faced by the collaboration:"There are more genes in a handful of soil than in the entire human genome."
"At Diversa, we are committed to developing products from the rich genomic resource of uncultured microbes living in nearly every environment on earth. We believe that our sequencing collaboration with JGI will contribute greatly to our understanding and utilisation of microbial genes."
Microbes, the oldest form of life on Earth, inhabit nearly every environment and can thrive under extreme conditions of heat, cold, pressure, and radiation. Although microbes represent the vast majority of life on the planet, according to researchers, more than 99 per cent have not been cultured, and consequently their genomic diversity has been largely unrecognised and unutilised.
The scientists involved in the JGI collaboration hope that by studying the DNA of microbes, they might find ways to use microbes to develop new pharmaceutical and agricultural products, energy sources, industrial processes, and solutions to a variety of environmental problems.
Diversa and JGI will sequence DNA from microbes environments such as deep-sea thermal vents, insect endosymbionts, soil from nuclear weapons manufacturing sites, and water collected by rainforest epiphytes. Diversa recently received a patent for sequencing of mixed populations of microbial DNA directly from the environment.