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Cover of The New Science of Metagenomics

The New Science of Metagenomics

Revealing the Secrets of Our Microbial Planet


Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); .
ISBN-13: 978-0-309-10676-4ISBN-10: 0-309-10676-1


The scope of metagenomics is vast. Defining the metagenomic characteristics of microbial communities in the biosphere is a critical first step in understanding their contributions to the health of the planet, their roles in the well-being of humans, and the environmental consequences of human activities. Because so little is known about microbial communities, the potential for discovery is great in any habitat chosen for study. The committee identified eight potential opportunities in different application areas that can be addressed with metagenomics:

Earth Sciences: The development of genome-based microbial ecosystem models to describe and predict global environmental processes, change, and sustainability.

Life Sciences: The advancement of new theory and predictive capabilities in community-based microbial biology, ecology, and evolution.

Biomedical Sciences: The definition, on a global scale, of the contributions of the human microbiome to health and disease in individuals and populations and the development of novel treatments based on this knowledge.

Energy: The development of microbial systems and processes for new bioenergy resources that will be more economical, environmentally sustainable, and resilient in the face of disruption by world events.

Environmental Remediation: The development of tools for monitoring environmental damage at all levels (from climate change to leaking gas-storage tanks) and microbially based (green) methods for restoring the health of an ecosystem.

Biotechnology: The identification and exploitation of the bio-synthetic and biocatalytic capacities of microbial communities to generate beneficial industrial, food, and health products (pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, and probiotics).

Agriculture: The development of more effective and comprehensive methods for early detection of threats to food production (crop and animal diseases) and food safety (monitoring and early detection of dangerous microbial contaminants) and the development of management practices that maximize the benefit from microbial communities in and around domestic plants and animals.

Biodefense and Microbial Forensics: the development of more effective vaccines and therapeutics against potential bioterror agents, the deployment of genomic biosensors to monitor microbial ecosystems for known and potential pathogens, and the ability to precisely identify and characterize microbes that have played a role in war, terrorism, and crime events, thus contributing to discovering the source of the microbes and the party responsible for their use.

Meeting these challenges will require progress on several fronts. Technological, methodological, computational, and conceptual advances will be needed to develop the potential of metagenomics fully.


This study was supported by Contract MCB—0544539 between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation (NSF), Contract N01-OD-4-2139 between the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Contract DE-AT01-05ER64072 between the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Energy (DOE).

The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of NIH, NSF, or DOE, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the US Government.

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

Copyright © 2007, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK54006PMID: 21678629


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