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FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2004 Feb 16;231(2):153-8.

Environmental genomics, the big picture?

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Evolutionary Genomics Group, División de Microbiología, Universidad Miguel Hernández, Campus de San Juan, 03550 San Juan de Alicante, Spain.


The enormous sequencing capabilities of our times might be reaching the point of overflowing the possibilities to analyse data and allow for a feedback on where to focus the available resources. We have now a foreseeable future in which most bacterial species will have an annotated genome. However, we know also that most prokaryotic diversity would not be included there. On the one hand, there is the problem of many groups not being easily amenable to culture and hence not represented in culture-centred microbial taxonomy. On the other hand, the gene pools present in one species can be orders of magnitude larger than the genome of one strain (selected for genome sequencing). Contrasting with eukaryotic genomes, the repertoire of genes present in one prokaryotic cell genome does not correlate stringently with its taxonomic identity. Hence gene catalogues from one environment might provide more meaningful information than the classical species catalogues. Metagenomics or microbial environmental genomics provide a different tool that gravitates around the habitat rather than the species. Such a tool could be just the right way to complement "organismal genomics". Its potential to advance our understanding of microbial ecology and prokaryotic diversity and evolution is discussed.

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