Scientists look at the “black boxes” of soil microbes to learn their secrets.

Slava Epstein and his lab at Northeastern University has discovered new antibiotics using leftover lab supplies such as this 'iChip" pipette tip holder, and bacteria gathered from common places such as soil, or the human mouth, using devices, such as ths "iChip" embedded in a retainer. Josh Reynolds for STAT (Zimmer)

Scientists look at the “black boxes” of soil microbes to learn their secrets.

One tablespoon of soil contains billions of microbes. Life on earth, especially food, depends on these microbes, but scientists don’t even have a lot of names, let alone describe them.

Thanks to researchers like Noah Fierer of the university of Colorado at boulder, this is slowly changing. According to Fierer, microbes have been in obscurity for a long time. “They do a lot of important things directly or indirectly for us, and I hope they get the respect they deserve,” he said.

These microbes create fertile soil to help plants grow, consume and release carbon dioxide, oxygen and other important elements. But they are all anonymous. Fierer says, scientists haven’t found that most of these species, also don’t know many of their other knowledge, such as “what they did in the soil, how they live and their appearance”.

According to Fierer they learning difficulty is very big, partly because most of them refused to grow in the soil in any place, “so we can’t remove them from the soil and the research in the laboratory.”

Some scientists call soil microbial communities “black boxes.” You can’t see inside.

However, Fierer and other scientists have come up with new ways to open the box. They collect soil samples and extract all the DNA contained in the sample from all the organisms living there. Even in a small sample, this is a variety of things. “You can find thousands of bacteria in a given teaspoon of soil,” Fierer says.

They studied the DNA in each sample. They pay particular attention to specific areas of DNA common to all living organisms. By making all the different directories in the region, they can see how many different microbes exist in the sample. They can also describe the common conditions of every microbe. There, the earth microbiome project USES this method to study soil microbes.

Fierer, a member of the partnership, found that although there may be millions of soil microbes, there is a relatively small group that seems to dominate. These microorganisms abound in soil samples from deserts, grasslands and forests. Fierer’s report appeared this week in the journal science.

Fierer lists 500 species of bacteria, which typically account for nearly half of all soil bacteria. To understand the soil ecosystem, he says, it makes sense to focus on these advantages. He calls it “the most popular list,” but it’s also a question mark.

“Most of the microbes are our most popular lists – they don’t have a species name,” he said. “They didn’t describe it.”

Janet Jensen, a top scientist at the Pacific northwest national laboratory in richland, wash., is helping lead the earth’s microbial project. She says scientists will be keeping a close eye on these common microbes.

“That they may play an important role, because they are dominant, everywhere, so I think this is the next step must do: such as description of their behavior and how they are affected by the changes – such as climate change.” She said.

Jansson says, could the entire genetic sequences of these microbes together, so even if you can’t cultivate microorganisms in the laboratory, scientists can also by looking for their genes to figure out what they are doing.

, she says, the soil microbial common or rare, may become a source of important discoveries, including biotechnology, such as “has not yet found a new enzyme, new antibiotics is yet to be found”.


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