, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp 887-892

Population genetics: the next stop for microbial ecologists?

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Abstract

Microbes play key roles in the functioning of the biosphere. Still, our knowledge about their total diversity is very limited. In particular, we lack a clear understanding of the evolutionary dynamics occurring within their populations (i.e. among members of the same biological species). Unlike animals and plants, microbes normally have huge population sizes, high reproductive rates and the potential for unrestricted dispersal. As a consequence, the knowledge of population genetics acquired from studying animals and plants cannot be applied without extensive testing to microbes. Next generation molecular tools, like High Throughput Sequencing (e.g. 454 and Illumina) coupled to Single Cell Genomics, now allow investigating microbial populations at a very fine scale. Such techniques have the potential to shed light on several ecological and evolutionary processes occurring within microbial populations that so far have remained hidden. Furthermore, they may facilitate the identification of microbial species. Eventually, we may find an answer to the question of whether microbes and multicellular organisms follow the same or different rules in their population diversification patterns.