How do marine microbial ecosystems respond to climate change and pollution? In this article in Microbiology Today, Jack Gilbert explains how treating microbial marine communities as single cells in a metatranscriptomics approach could shed light on this fundamental question:
If the number of known stars in the Milky Way is multiplied by the number of known galaxies in the universe the result is a huge number, a septillion (1×1024). Yet, large as this is, it pales in comparison to the number of microbial cells found in the world oceans, estimated to be 1 nonillion (1×1030). When we start to include soil, air and organism-associated environments, this number becomes unimaginable. Traditional microbiology is our gold standard for understanding how these trillions and trillions of bacteria function. Basically, we grow the bugs in a laboratory, one species at a time, and test how they respond to chemical stimuli. Ultimately, we sequence their genome and try to map their genes to particular functions. To help make this link we can observe the expression of these genes in response to certain stimuli, so called transcriptomics.