Researchers Publish First Volume of Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea; Resource for Optimizing Biofuels, Bioremediation and Carbon Capture
Genome researchers from the US and Germany have published the initial “volume” of the Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea (GEBA)—an analysis of the first 56 genomes sequenced from the two domains. The paper appeared in the 24 December edition of the journal Nature.
The Earth is estimated to have about a nonillion (1030) microbes in, on, around, and under it, comprising an unknown but very large number of distinct species. Close to 2,000 microbes have been and are being decoded to date. The GEBA pilot was launched in May 2007 in collaboration with the non-profit German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures, DSMZ to sequence 100 bacterial and archaeal genomes based on the phylogenetic positions of organisms.
Microbes mediate almost every conceivable biological process on the planet and genome sequencing has revolutionized our understanding of the diverse roles that they play. The information from this first set of organisms has provided a rich source of novel enzymes and detailed biochemical pathways that can help scientists optimize processes of critical importance to areas of the DOE mission, such as biofuels production, bioremediation, and how carbon is captured and cycled in the environment.—DOE JGI Director Eddy Rubin
|“Microbes run the world. It’s that simple.”
—2007 NAS report on Metagenomics
Most studies in microbiology have exploited a narrow subset of the evolutionary diversity of bacteria and archaea known to exist, and were selected more for convenience (and because they cause diseases) rather than the opportunity to advance discovery science. From the tree of microbial diversity the genomes from only a few branches have been sequenced. The DOE JGI is now exploring Earth’s microbial “dark matter” with a project to sequence little-studied microbial species that will inform other microbes and complex microbial communities.
The main driver behind the GEBA project is that while the currently available sequenced genomes cover a wide range of biological and functional diversity, they have not covered a wide enough range of phylogenetic diversity. What distinguishes GEBA is that it is less about the individual genomes and more about building a more balanced catalog of the diversity of genomes present on the planet which in turn should facilitate searches for novel functions and our understanding of the complex processes of the biosphere.—senior author Jonathan Eisen, DOE JGI Phylogenomics Program Head and Professor at UC Davis
Beyond filling in what he refers to as the “phylogenetic dark matter of the biological universe,” Eisen said that the information flowing from the project will shed light on the diversity of gene families and improve the understanding of how microbes acquire new functions. In addition, the newly sequenced organisms will provide urgently needed anchors for the improved annotation (assessment of biological function) of data emerging from the many ongoing projects that have expanded upon the idea of studying individual microbes by studying entire communities, deciphering specific microbial capabilities from complex environmental samples. A key outcome will be new gene products and enzymes previously unknown to biologists.
Several of the characterized microbes from the first GEBA “volume” are paying dividends. DOE JGI researchers Natalia Ivanova and Athanasios Lykidis discovered a novel set of cellulases in a variety of GEBA organisms. In partnership with the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute, researchers synthesized these genes and have begun to characterize them. These enzymes are of particular interest because they should be active in highly acidic environments, which could make them valuable for the liquid pretreatment of biomass feedstocks for biofuels.
This is only the start. The known phylogenetic diversity of bacteria and archaea is immense with hundreds of major lineages and probably millions if not hundreds of millions of species. This encyclopedia project is starting at the top—with the major phylogenetic groups—100 genomes from across the tree. But we have barely scratched the surface of characterizing the diversity on the planet.—Jonathan Eisen
Eisen and his colleagues hope to extend GEBA beyond the pilot phase to sequence hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of genomes from additional unknown microbes.
Detailed descriptions for all of the individual sequenced GEBA organisms are being published in the recently launched Journal Standards in Genomic Sciences (SIGS) the official open access online publication of the Genomic Standards Consortium (GSC).
List of the GEBA pilot project targets
Dongying Wu et al. (2009) A phylogeny-driven genomic encyclopaedia of Bacteria and Archaea. Nature 462, 1056-1060 doi: 10.1038/nature08656