Microbes Offer Clues to a Healthier Planet


A large group of scientists from around the world has taken on the enormous challenge of cataloging all the microbes on Earth. They described the undertaking and their methods in a paper in the journal Nature.

Bharath Prithiviraj, a research associate at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at The Graduate Center, CUNY, was a contributing author on the study.

Over seven years, the Earth Microbiome Project (EMP) crowdsourced samples of microbial communities from different environments across the globe, from sources as varied as human guts and icy rivers. They then analyzed the genomic data of the microbes found in each sample and compiled this information into an open-source database.

The EMP team also standardized a method of analyzing the microbial genomes, which will make it easy to add new entries to the database. Such a voluminous and growing well of information will help scientists better understand the makeup of different microbial communities and how they fit into their environments. The database will enable studies on the ecological forces that impact microbial communities and tease out patterns across the globe.

As a specific contribution to this database, Prithiviraj, with colleagues at the Knight Lab at the University of California San Diego, investigated the effects of flooding and water retreat on the community composition of desert soil microbiota at Lake Powell, an artificial reservoir on the Colorado River that has decreased in level since the late 1990s due to drought conditions.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
A communal catalogue reveals Earth’s multiscale microbial diversity
Nature, 2017

Work By
Bharath Prithiviraj (Adjunct Faculty & Research Associate, Earth and Environmental Science)

Colleges and Schools
The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
Earth Microbiome Project

Microbe Cataloguing on a Mega Scale (ASRC News)

Related Terms