The majority of microbes in many environments are considered “as yet uncultured” and were traditionally considered inaccessible for study through the microbiological gold-standard of pure culture. The emergence of metagenomic approaches has allowed researchers to access and study these microbes in a culture-independent manner through next generation sequencing and functional expression of metagenomic DNA in a heterologous host. Metagenomics has revealed an extraordinary degree of diversity and novelty, not only among microbial communities themselves, but also within the genomes of these microbes.
Metagenomic analysis can involve sequence-based or functional approaches (or a combination of both). The continuous improvements to next-generation sequencing technologies coupled with dramatic reductions in cost have allowed the field of metagenomics to grow at a rapid rate. Many novel insights on microbial community composition, structure and functional capacity have been gained from sequence-based metagenomics. Functional metagenomics has been utilised, with much success, to identify many novel genes, proteins and secondary metabolites such as antibiotics with industrial, biotechnological, pharmaceutical and medical relevance.
Future improvements and developments in sequencing technologies, expression vectors, alternative host systems and novel screening assays will help advance the field further by revealing novel taxonomic, phylogenetic and genetic diversity.
This research topic aims to showcase the utility metagenomics to gain insights on the microbial and genomic diversity in different environments by revealing the breadth of novelty that was in the past, largely untapped.
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