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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Metagenomics

The National Academy of Sciences of the United States has published a free, downloadable booklet, available here, entitled "Understanding our Microbial Planet: The New Science of Metagenomics." The booklet is illustrated, and the average intelligent high school student should understand it.

What is metagenomics? Basically, it involves collecting a sample of the living organisms in an area, such as a body of water, soil, or the human gut, and determining what genes are present there, without attempting to separate the individual organisms or species. Thus, after doing a metagenomic analysis, a scientist could report that genes A, P, and Q were present in some member or members of the biological community, but that genes B, R, and S were not found in the sample.

It is possible to screen the community for antibiotic or vitamin production, and for other functions. The report says that new antibiotics have been found in this way.

Thanks for reading.

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