, Volume 90, Issue 4, pp 309-324
Date: 25 Oct 2006

Microbial diversity in natural environments: focusing on fundamental questions

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Interactions with Gijs Kuenen and other Dutch scientists have led my lab to fundamental insights into the composition, structure and function of a hot spring cyanobacterial mat community that should influence our thinking about all microbial communities. By focusing on the distribution of molecular sequence variants of predominant mat phototrophs, we have discovered that small-scale sequence variation can be ecologically meaningful. By applying novel cultivation approaches, we have been able to obtain genetically relevant community members and thus to test the hypothesis that closely related sequence variants arose via adaptive evolutionary radiation. By applying the analytical tools of organic geochemistry we have gained insight into the metabolisms of major phototrophic members of the mat community as well as interactions between phototrophic guilds. These observations challenge traditional paradigms about prokaryotic species and cause us to consider evolutionary ecology theory as we develop genome-based methods for high-resolution analysis of the species-like fundamental units comprising microbial communities, and for investigating how such units coordinate the physiological activities within guilds of the community.