A(r)Ray of hope in analysis of the function and diversity of microbial communities.
The vast majority of microorganisms in the environment remain uncultured, and their existence is known only from sequences retrieved by PCR. As a consequence, our understanding of the ecological function of dominant microbial populations in the environment is limited. We will review microbial diversity studies and show that these may have moved from an extreme underestimation to a potentially severe overestimation of diversity. The latter results from a simple PCR-generated artifact: the cloning of heteroduplex molecules followed by Escherichia coli mismatch repair, which may generate an exponential increase in observed sequence diversity. However, simple modifications to current PCR amplification protocols minimize such artifactual sequences and may bring within our reach estimation of bacterial diversity in environmental samples. Such estimates may spur new culture-independent approaches based on genomic and microarray technology, allowing correlation of phylogenetic identity with the ecological function of unculturable organisms. In particular, we are developing a DNA microarray that enables identification of individual populations active in utilization of specific organic substrates. The array consists of 16S and 23S rDNA-targeted oligonucleotides and is hybridized to RNA extracted from samples incubated with (14)C-labeled organic substrates. Populations that metabolize the substrate can be identified by the radiolabel incorporated in their rRNA after only one to two cell doublings, ensuring realistic preservation of community structure. Thus, the microarray approach may provide a powerful means to link microbial community structure with in situ function of individual populations.
Polz, MF; Bertilsson, S; Acinas, SG; Hunt, D
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