Every year, hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells generates billions of gallons of contaminated water. Scientists at Berkeley Lab and the CO School of Mines believe microbes could be the key to turning this waste into a resource.
Long ago, during the European Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci wrote that we humans “know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” Five hundred years and innumerable technological and scientific advances later, his sentiment still holds true. But that could soon change. A new study in Nature Communications details how an improved method for studying microbes in the soil will help scientists understand both fine-grained details and large-scale cycles of the environment.
For years, routine testing has shown that watersheds of the Mahaulepu Valley and Waikomo Stream in southeast Kauai frequently contain high counts of potentially pathogenic fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). To better understand the cause of the high FIB counts, the DOH commissioned a study by Berkeley Lab microbial ecologists Gary Andersen and Eric Dubinsky. After using a powerful microbial detection tool called the PhyloChip, the scientists concluded that most of the past monitoring results were false positives.
Wastewater is treated by an activated sludge process in municipal wastewater treatment plants and returned to the environment for use. This treatment process has been used for over a century, and today represents the largest application of biotechnology in the world, yet there has been no effort to map the global activated sludge microbiome. A
Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley have discovered that as plants develop they craft their root microbiome, favoring microbes that consume very specific metabolites. Their study could help scientists identify ways to enhance the soil microbiome for improved carbon storage and plant productivity.
How will the farms of the future feed a projected 9.8 billion people by 2050? Berkeley Lab’s “smart farm” project marries microbiology and machine learning in an effort to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and enhance soil carbon uptake, thus improving the long-term viability of the land while increasing crop yields.
In search of new plant enzymes? Try looking in compost. Researchers at JBEI have demonstrated the importance of microbial communities as a source of stable enzymes that could be used to convert plants to biofuels. This approach yields robust enzymes that researchers can’t easily obtain from isolates.
In the Earth Microbiome Project, an extensive global team collected more than 27,000 samples from numerous, diverse environments around the globe. They analyzed the unique collections of microbes – the microbiomes – living in each sample to generate the first reference database of bacteria colonizing the planet. Thanks to newly standardized protocols, original analytical methods and open data-sharing, the project will continue to grow and improve as new data are added. The paper describing this effort, published November
It turns out your skin is crawling with single-celled microorganisms – and they’re not just bacteria. A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Medical University of Graz has found that the skin microbiome also contains archaea, a type of extreme-loving microbe, and that the amount of it varies with age.
Scientists from Berkeley Lab and PNNL have found that genes and early environment play big roles in shaping the gut microbiome. The microbes retained a clear “signature” formed where the mice were first raised, and the characteristics carried over to the next generation. The findings could potentially be used to develop designer diets optimized to an individual’s microbiome.