Researchers have developed a new technique to know more about a myriad of microorganisms that are responsible not only for diseases but also for the functioning of the human body and the production of antibiotics and biofuels.
The method will sequence and analyze the dark matter of life — the genomes of thousands of bacteria species — that probably makes up most living organisms on Earth – previously beyond scientists’ reach.
Bacteria play a vital role in human health. They make up about 10 percent of the weight of the human body and can be found anywhere from the stomach to the mouth.
The breakthrough will enable researchers to assemble virtually complete genomes from DNA extracted from a single bacterial cell. By contrast, traditional sequencing methods require at least a billion identical cells, grown in cultures in the lab.
“This part of life was completely inaccessible at the genomic level,” said Pavel Pevzner, a computer science professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and a pioneer of algorithms for modern DNA sequencing technology.
“The new assembly algorithm captures 90 percent of genes from a single cell. Admittedly, it is not 100 percent. But it’s almost as good as it gets for modern sequencing technologies: today biologists typically capture 95 percent of genes but they need to grow a billion cells to accomplish it,” said Tesler.
The study was recently published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.