Number of Bacterial and Archaeal Type Strains Doubled

Scientists expand the microbial tree of life by publishing more than 1,000 novel reference genomes.  

Jun 14, 2017
Aggie Mika

Graphic depicting the Halothermothrix orenii chromosome


                                    In an effort led by US Department of Energy (DOE) scientists at the Joint Genome Institute (JGI), an international research team released 1,003 novel bacterial and archaeal reference genomes, doubling the volume of existing bacterial type strains and boosting their known microbial phylogenetic diversity by about 24 percent, according to a study published Monday (June 12) in Nature Biotechnology. The genomes represent “the largest single release of reference genomes to date,” the authors write in their report.

“We uncovered potentially important members of microbial communities previously lacking taxonomic identity due to absence of reference genomes,” write the authors.

The genomes were constructed from metagenomic data isolated from various sources, including the human body, plants, soil, seawater, and termite guts, according to a news release. The efforts were part of the Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea Initiative (GEBA-I), an endeavor aimed at identifying undiscovered proteins and genes and improving upon scientists’ current understanding of microbial evolution.

This project took a decade to complete, the news release reports, and is part of a larger effort by the DOE to better understand the role microbes play in “regulating Earth’s biogeochemical cycles.”

The authors also examined the number of new protein families encoded by these genomes, and contributed approximately 10 percent more diversity to known protein sequences. Additionally, they revealed about 24,000 new biosynthetic gene clusters—genes that code for biosynthetic enzymes, which are important for producing secondary microbial metabolites.

“[Bacteria and archaea] have already conquered every environment on the planet, so they have found ways to survive under the harshest of conditions with different enzymes and with different biochemistry,” says senior author Nikos Kyrpides in the news release. 

Correction June 14: We reported that the number of bacterial reference genomes doubled. The study doubled the number of bacterial type strains, not reference genomes. The Scientist regrets the error.

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