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Nature. 1990 May 3;345(6270):63-5.

16S rRNA sequences reveal numerous uncultured microorganisms in a natural community.

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Department of Microbiology, Montana State University, Bozeman 59717.


Microbiologists have been constrained in their efforts to describe the compositions of natural microbial communities using traditional methods. Few microorganisms have sufficiently distinctive morphology to be recognized by microscopy. Culture-dependent methods are biased, as a microorganism can be cultivated only after its physiological niche is perceived and duplicated experimentally. It is therefore widely believed that fewer than 20% of the extant microorganisms have been discovered, and that culture methods are inadequate for studying microbial community composition. In view of the physiological and phylogenetic diversity among microorganisms, speculation that 80% or more of microbes remain undiscovered raises the question of how well we know the Earth's biota and its biochemical potential. We have performed a culture-independent analysis of the composition of a well-studied hot spring microbial community, using a common but distinctive cellular component, 16S ribosomal RNA. Our results confirm speculations about the diversity of uncultured microorganisms it contains.

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