viernes, mayo 29, 2009

Gregor Wolbring on metagenomics

Metagenomics is a term coined a decade ago for a field that has taken off in recent years, mostly due to advances in information, sequencing, and data analysis and mining technologies (see here).

The New Science of Metagenomics: Revealing the Secrets of Our Microbial Planet by the Committee on Metagenomics: Challenges and Functional Applications, U.S. National Research Council, is a book one should read if one is interested in the field. It describes metagenomics as follows: “Metagenomics in either sense will probably never be circumscribed tightly by a definition, and it would be undesirable to attempt to so limit it now, but the term includes cultivation-independent genome-level characterization of communities or their members, high-throughput gene-level studies of communities with methods borrowed from genomics, and other “omics” studies..., which are aimed at understanding transorganismal behaviors and the biosphere at the genomic level.”

The book envisions collaborations among academic disciplines including: atmospheric, ocean, soil, and water studies; geology; medicine; veterinary science; agricultural science; environment; and bioengineering. Metagenomics offers a means of solving practical problems facing humanity in earth sciences, life sciences, biomedical sciences, bioenergy, bioremediation, biotechnology, agriculture, biodefense and microbial forensics.

Metagenomics enables the study of the 99 percent or more of microbes that have never been cultured and might not be cultured. According to the committee that published the book, the 12 members of the USA Microbe Project -- the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior US Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Science Foundation along with the CIA and the FBI -- are the federal agencies likely to benefit further from advances in metagenomics.

In 2005 scientists, physicians, industry representatives, and administrators from funding agencies in Asia, the Americas, and Europe met in Paris met to discuss human metagenomic applications such as the human intestinal metagenome, and the International Human Gut Metagenome Initiative was born. Since then, more human applications have appeared.


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