From the vents of the ocean floor to deep within the human gut they leave no corner of Earth's biosphere untouched. They represent such an overwhelming majority of life on earth that no other organism can lay claim to their total omnipresence as they maintain the living world around us. Microbes may be the smallest of living creatures, but they are unrivalled as the most important.
In a new two volume set, the Handbook of Molecular Microbial Ecology, Professor Frans J. de Bruijn reveals how the field of microbiology has been transformed by the recent emergence of metagenomics, a discipline which allows microbiologists to study uncultured microbes directly from the environment.
"Before metagenomics the main problem with studying microbes was the assumption that microorganisms needed to be culturable in order to classify them and study their metabolic and organismal diversity," said de Bruijn. "Now we know that the unculturable world is far greater than the culturable one. In fact, the number of prokaryotic genomes has been estimated from 2000 to 18,000 genomes in a single gram of soil."
Handbook of Molecular Microbial Ecology is a premiere two-volume reference which explores complex microbial communities in many distinct habitats. From genomic analysis to the direct use of DNA and RNA for sequencing, the two volumes outline the latest methods now used in laboratories across the globe to study microorganisms.
Together the handbooks offer the first comprehensive reference to cover unculturable microorganisms which could not be analyzed without metagenomic methodology. Both volumes feature review articles as well as a large number of case studies based on original publications and written by international experts.
"Metagenomics provides answers to the questions: 'who exactly is out there and what are they doing' by analysing the megasequence data that is produced," concluded de Bruijn. "Using this methodology entire genomes have been assembled as the knowledge about the physiology of new species improves and the invisible force of microbes which maintain our world becomes a little more visible."