Using Genomics to Study Microbial Diversity

Debashish Bhattacharya (Biochemistry and Microbiology)
Dana Price (Plant Biology and Pathology)

This Byrne Seminar poses the question: how many different species inhabit our planet? Answering this question is more difficult than you might think. This is because we need to figure out how to unambiguously identify different species, how to classify them, and how to figure out their interrelationships. In this seminar, we will focus on the most mysterious and species-rich branches of the tree of life—microbial “dark matter” that comprises millions of unknown bacterial and eukaryotic species that live in extreme environments such as undersea vents, and in open oceans, soils, and in association with animals and plants. The critical contributions of this microbial world are becoming clear, given their role in human health, in plant productivity, and in sustaining life in many other habitats on Earth. We will review the search for microbial biodiversity using powerful new methods such as single cell genomics and metagenomics. These approaches not only allow us to estimate microbial species numbers but provide an estimate of the total number of unique genes that exist on our planet and how they interact with each other. The seminar will include a visit to a modern genome center where high throughput DNA sequencing is done and will provide some basic training in the analysis of metagenome (environmental DNA) datasets.

Course Number: 
11:090:101 section 20 index 11054