New Window Opens on the Secret Life of Microbes: Scientists Develop First Microbial Profiles of Ecosystems
Microbial profiles serve as the ecological version of the human genome project
Nowhere is the principle of "strength in numbers" more apparent than in the collective power of microbes: despite their simplicity, these one-cell organisms -- which number about 5 million trillion trillion strong (no, that is not a typo) on Earth -- affect virtually every ecological process, from the decay of organic material to the production of oxygen.
But even though microbes essentially rule the Earth, scientists have never before been able to conduct comprehensive studies of microbes and their interactions with one another in their natural habitats. Now, a new study -- funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and described in the March 12, 2008 online issue of Nature -- provides the first inventories of microbial capabilities in nine very different types of ecosystems, ranging from coral reefs to deep mines.