Scientists at the Argonne National Lab, in partnership with a number of research institutions, used a technology called RAST (Rapid Annotation using Subsystem Technology) to systematically annotate genomes of large numbers of lower life species. According to the project page, RAST is a “fully-automated service for annotating bacterial and archael genomes. It provides high quality genome annotations for these genomes across the whole phylogenetic tree. ” This research is already shedding a light on the metabolism and genetic expression of bacteria and viruses in a variety of environments.
Using comparative metagenomics, a technique that characterizes the DNA content of whole communities of organisms rather than individual species, researchers statistically analyzed the frequency distribution of 14,585,213 microbial and viral sequences to explain the functional potential of nine biomes. A biome is defined as the entire community of living organisms in a single major ecological area. More than 80 distinct populations falling into those nine selected biomes were sampled for the study.
"The magnitude of the microbial metabolic capabilities encoded by the viruses was extensive," said Forest Rohwer, SDSU biology professor and study co-author. "This suggests that viruses and microbes serve as an archive for the storing and sharing of genes among their hosts, and influence evolution and metabolic processes worldwide."
While researchers expected to find similar behaviors among the metagenomes in every environment, they instead found that the metagenomes have distinctive metabolic profiles. This discovery could lead to innovations in curing viral or bacterial diseases, as well as help develop new methods of environmental conservation.
More in the Argonne press release: Bioinformatics technology developed at Argonne provides new insight into microbial activities
San Diego State University press release: SDSU Researchers Profile Genes of Nine Biomes…