Seeing How the Other 999 Lives

ne of the biggest challenges for the future is the development of methodologies to cultivate and study a wider array of environmental bacteria. Without these bacteria, humans and other animals would not be able to exist. Yet considering their importance, we still know very little about most species, including the relative contributions of each to such fundamental processes as O2 generation and nitrogen fixation.

Studying environmental microorganisms can be difficult. Much of our understanding of bacterial processes comes from work with pure cultures. Yet over 99% of bacteria have never been successfully grown in the laboratory. At the same time, when organisms are removed from their natural habitat, and especially when they are separated from other organisms, their environment changes drastically. Consequently, the study of pure cultures may not be the ideal for studying natural situations, even though it has historically been the method of choice.

Technological advances such as flow cytometry and fluorescent labeling, along with the recombinant DNA techniques dis-

Summary 105

cussed in chapter 9, may make it easier to study environmental bacteria. This may well lead to a better understanding of the diversity and the roles of microorganisms in our ecosystem. Scientists have learned a great deal about microorganisms since the days of Pasteur, but most of the microbial world is still a mystery.

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