Skip to Main Content U.S. Department of Energy
PNNL News Central

Scientists create unprecedented catalog of microbial life on planet Earth

PNNL scientist helps lead massive effort by more 300 scientists around the globe

News Brief

November 01, 2017 Share This!

1 of 1

RICHLAND, Wash. — Scientists have taken the most extensive snapshot ever of the vast microbial life on Earth.

By drawing on more than 27,000 samples of soil, tissue, and water from the Arctic to Antarctica, more than 300 scientists at scores of institutions worldwide have created the first reference database of bacteria inhabiting the planet. The findings were published Nov. 1 in the journal Nature.

The study is the latest result from the Earth Microbiome Project, which is led by a trio of scientists including Janet Jansson of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and colleagues at the University of California San Diego, the University of Chicago and DOE's Argonne National Laboratory.

Microbes are tiny, but the goal of Jansson and her colleagues from the outset in 2010 was anything but: To sample as many of the Earth's microbial communities as possible to advance scientific understanding of microbes and their relationships with their environments, including plants, animals and humans. So far the project has spanned seven continents and 43 countries, with scientists analyzing more than 2 billion DNA sequences from bacteria and other microbes.

The team so far has identified around 300,000 unique sequences of the 16S rRNA gene, a genetic marker specific for bacteria and their relatives, archaea. The 16S rRNA sequences serve almost like barcodes — unique identifiers that allow researchers to track bacteria across samples from around the world. 

For more information about the work by Jansson and the team, view the full news release.

Tags: Environment, Fundamental Science, Biology, Microbiology

PNNL LogoPacific Northwest National Laboratory is the nation’s premier laboratory for scientific discovery in chemistry, earth sciences, and data analytics and for solutions to the nation’s toughest challenges in energy resiliency and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit PNNL’s News Center. Follow us on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

News Center

Multimedia

Additional Resources