A recently established Department of Energy (DOE) initiative is expected to yield major scientific and commercial contributions as it embarks on its multimillion-dollar effort to sequence the entire genome of several free-living microorganisms.

Scientists anticipate that the program will substantially expand understanding of evolutionary relationships, while it also advances genome-sequencing technology. Commercial application of the sequences, such as industrial enzymes used in cleaning up the environment, is another benefit being espoused by the researchers.

Of the thousands of microbes found on Earth--each group with its potential scientific, medical, and commercial features of interest--how do funders and researchers choose which species to sequence first? Although the Department of Energy initially wanted to analyze a broader range of bugs, Microbial Genome Initiative project manager Jay Grimes says the investigators "made good arguments to do archaes [the Archaea] first."

In part, he recounts, archaes were chosen because investigators would be able to sequence...

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