Metagenomics: Window on Microbial Biodiversity
The microbial world is rich with biodiversity – biodiversity that far exceeds the diversity of plants and animals on our planet. Metagenomics is a new approach to study the biodiversity of microorganisms in a specific environment. In metagenomic studies, we collect samples from the environment and then extract and study all the genetic material from the microorganisms present in these samples. The same next-generation DNA sequencers being used to sequence the human genome are also used to generate millions to billions of DNA sequences from these environmental samples. From these billions of DNA sequences, we can determine what microbes live in the community and what are their potential functions and roles in the community.
Applying metagenomics to our watersheds will enable us to discover novel microbial indicators associated with polluted versus healthy watersheds. Using these indicators, we will develop the Watershed Health Profile which will be incorporated into the Canadian Water Quality Index to warn the users of the watersheds about the potential health threats.
With the high resolution genetic data that we will obtain from metagenomic studies, we will also develop strategies to identify the specific source of fecal pollution in contaminated watersheds. We will match the genetic fingerprint of microbial communities found in the water to the genetic fingerprint of the microbes found in animal or human feces. This Microbial Pollution Profile will be used by watershed managers as part of their pollution abatement and ongoing best practice monitoring efforts.