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Earth Microbiome

August 29, 2012

The Earth Microbiome Project is an unprecedented effort to study microbial communities around the world.



Cataloguing microbial life.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Right now, scientists around the world are plumbing the ocean, scouring the desert, and chipping ice in Antarctica – all to learn about the vast microbial communities in these environments.  It’s called the Earth Microbiome Project.  Microbiologist Janet Jansson of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says it’s an attempt to fill in the vast gaps in our knowledge of the microbial world.

JANET JANSSON (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory):

If you take a teaspoon full of soil, there are over a billion microorganisms in that soil, and still over 90 percent of those have never been identified or studied.

She says these microbes perform essential functions in natural ecosystems, and even in our own bodies, that we’re mostly unaware of. As the project progresses, researchers hope to find out not only what they do, but how disturbances like oil spills, climate change, and pollution influence their activity. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Even deserts have an unfathomable multitude of microorganisms living within the soil. (Jupiter Images)