Journal of Industrial Microbiology

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 185-196

First online:

Quantitative comparisons ofin situ microbial biodiversity by signature biomarker analysis

  • DC WhiteAffiliated withCenter for Environmental Biotechnology, University of TennesseeEnvironmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National LaboratoryDepartment of Microbiology, University of Tennessee
  • , JO StairAffiliated withCenter for Environmental Biotechnology, University of Tennessee
  • , DB RingelbergAffiliated withCenter for Environmental Biotechnology, University of Tennessee

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Microscopic examinations have convinced microbial ecologists that the culturable microbes recovered from environmental samples represent a tiny proportion of the extant microbiota. Methods for recovery and enzymatic amplification of nucleic acids from environmental samples have shown that a huge diversity existsin situ, far exceeding any expectations which were based on direct microscopy. It is now theoretically possible to extract, amplify and sequence all the nucleic acids from a community and thereby gain a comprehensive measure of the diversity as well as some insights into the phylogeny of the various elements within this community. Unfortunately, this analysis becomes economically prohibitive if applied to the multitude of niches in a single biome let alone to a diverse set of environments. It is also difficult to utilize PCR amplification on nucleic acids from some biomes because of coextracting enzymatic inhibitors. Signature biomarker analysis which potentially combines gene probe and lipid analysis on the same sample, can serve as a complement to massive environmental genome analysis in providing quantitative comparisons between microniches in the biome under study. This analysis can also give indications of the magnitude of differences in biodiversity in the blome as well as provide insight into the phenotypic activities of each community in a rapid and cost-effective manner. Applications of signature lipid biomarker analysis to define quantitatively the microbial viable biomass of portions of an Eastern USA deciduous forest, are presented.


microbial biodiversity signature lipid biomarkers (SLB) phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) in situ microbial biomass community composition nutritional/physiological status non-culturable viable biomass