Caister Academic Press

Molecular Ecology and Environmental Genomics of Cyanobacteria

Ferran Garcia-Pichel
from: The Cyanobacteria: Molecular Biology, Genomics and Evolution (Edited by: Antonia Herrero and Enrique Flores). Caister Academic Press, U.K. (2008)


The application of molecular biology and genomics to microbial ecology has been a transformative force, making possible the discovery of layer upon layer of complexity in natural communities of microbes. Diversity surveying, community fingerprinting, and functional interrogation of natural populations have become common, enabled by a battery of molecular and bioinformatics techniques, some specifically developed for the cyanobacteria, which are reviewed in detail here. The ensuing effects on our views of cyanobacterial ecology have been perhaps less revolutionary, because of the special characteristics of cyanobacteria among microbes, but also significant. We have come to realize that the present taxonomic system is often phylogenetically incorrect; several new cyanobacteria or groups thereof have been discovered, and some established groups have been found to be constructs. Surveying efforts have covered many habitats and have demonstrated that cyanobacterial communities tend to be habitat-specific, and that plenty of undescribed genetic diversity is concealed among morphologically simple types. We can now select among isolates those that are good representatives of natural populations, enabling, among other objectives, ecologically motivated genome sequencing efforts. We have witnessed the first studies addressing population genetics and the blooming of functional studies based on detection of gene expression in Nature. We are entering an era of expansion of the polyphasic approaches that combine molecular, bioinformatics, physiological, and geochemical techniques to study natural communities
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