Schmidt, T. M. 2006. The maturing of microbial ecology. International Microbiology 9:217-223.
A.J. Kluyver and C.B. van Niel introduced many scientists to the exceptional metabolic capacity of microbes and their remarkable ability to adapt to changing environments in The Microbe’s Contribution to Biology. Beyond providing an overview of the physiology and adaptability of microbes, the book outlined many of the basic principles for the emerging discipline of microbial ecology. While the study of pure cultures was highlighted, provided a unifying framework for understanding the vast metabolic potential of microbes and their roles in the global cycling of elements, extrapolation from pure cultures to natural environments has often been overshadowed by microbiologists’ inability to culture many of the microbes seen in natural environments. A combination of genomic approaches is now providing a culture-independent view of the microbial world, revealing a more diverse and dynamic community of microbes than originally anticipated. As methods for determining the diversity of microbial communities become increasingly accessible, a major challenge to microbial ecologists is to link the structure of natural microbial communities with their functions. This article presents several examples from studies of aquatic and terrestrial microbial communities in which culture and culture-independent methods are providing an enhanced appreciation for the microbe’s contribution to the evolution and maintenance of life on Earth, and offers some thoughts about the graduate-level educational programs needed to enhance the maturing field of microbial ecology.
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