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ISME J. 2009 Jan;3(1):4-12. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2008.101. Epub 2008 Nov 13.

Protists are microbes too: a perspective.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0371, USA.


Our understanding of the composition and activities of microbial communities from diverse habitats on our planet has improved enormously during the past decade, spurred on largely by advances in molecular biology. Much of this research has focused on the bacteria, and to a lesser extent on the archaea and viruses, because of the relative ease with which these assemblages can be analyzed and studied genetically. In contrast, single-celled, eukaryotic microbes (the protists) have received much less attention, to the point where one might question if they have somehow been demoted from the position of environmentally important taxa. In this paper, we draw attention to this situation and explore several possible (some admittedly lighthearted) explanations for why these remarkable and diverse microbes have remained largely overlooked in the present 'era of the microbe'.

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