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ISME J. 2011 Dec;5(12):1837-43. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2011.61. Epub 2011 May 19.

Metagenomic mining for microbiologists.

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Environmental Microbial Genomics, Laboratoire Ampère, Ecole Centrale de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Ecully, France.


Microbial ecologists can now start digging into the accumulating mountains of metagenomic data to uncover the occurrence of functional genes and their correlations to microbial community members. Limitations and biases in DNA extraction and sequencing technologies impact sequence distributions, and therefore, have to be considered. However, when comparing metagenomes from widely differing environments, these fluctuations have a relatively minor role in microbial community discrimination. As a consequence, any functional gene or species distribution pattern can be compared among metagenomes originating from various environments and projects. In particular, global comparisons would help to define ecosystem specificities, such as involvement and response to climate change (for example, carbon and nitrogen cycle), human health risks (eg, presence of pathogen species, toxin genes and viruses) and biodegradation capacities. Although not all scientists have easy access to high-throughput sequencing technologies, they do have access to the sequences that have been deposited in databases, and therefore, can begin to intensively mine these metagenomic data to generate hypotheses that can be validated experimentally. Information about metabolic functions and microbial species compositions can already be compared among metagenomes from different ecosystems. These comparisons add to our understanding about microbial adaptation and the role of specific microbes in different ecosystems. Concurrent with the rapid growth of sequencing technologies, we have entered a new age of microbial ecology, which will enable researchers to experimentally confirm putative relationships between microbial functions and community structures.

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