The Final Frontier
Where is the modern explorer to boldly go that no man has gone before? It seems we have scoured every corner of the earth, identified thousands of species, and defined human anatomy. Even space can seem old hat today. However, we have missed something right under our noses, literally. We have only explored a small percentage of the microscopic organisms and viruses that share our bodies. As scientists sequence our genomes, they continue to find the DNA of unidentified bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This ?biological dark matter? is the next frontier.
- The microbiome is all microorganisms on the planet. These include bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Usually, we use the term microbiome to describe the microbial components of a certain environment like our gut, desert soil, or a coral reef.
- There are anywhere from 300 ? 1000 bacterial species in our gut. The number varies between individuals and does not account for biological dark matter.
- Biological dark matter is unidentified microbial species. We know they exist because their DNA shows up in genome and microbiome DNA sequencing results. Scientists can often classify these DNA sequences as bacterial, viral, or fungal based on genetic sequences common to each group, but that is the extent of the information that exists for these organisms.
- Nathan Wolfe prompts budding explorers to delve into biological dark matter in his TED talk below.
TEDTalks - Nathan Wolfe, 'What's Left To Explore?' (video): http://www.ted.com/talks/nathan_wolfe_what_s_left_to_explore
With the links below, learn more about biological dark matter. Then, answer the following questions.
- Nature World News, 'New Study on "Dark Matter" of Biology Fills in Major Holes in Tree of Life' (article): http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/2972/20130715/new-study-dark-matter-biology-fills-major-holes-tree-life.htm
- Phys.org, 'Scientists Shed Some Light On Biological "Dark Matter"' (article): http://phys.org/news/2014-01-scientists-biological-dark.html
- Northeastern University, 'Newly Discovered Antibiotic Kills Pathogens Without Resistance' (article): http://www.northeastern.edu/news/2015/01/kim-lewis-teixobactin-nature-paper/
- Previous to DNA sequencing, what limited our ability to identify bacterial species?
- What have been some of the outcomes of identifying new microbes?
- In addition to unidentified microbes, what is another example of biological dark matter?
- What is the importance of the iChip?