Nature, vol. 452, issue 7187 (2008) pp. 629-632
Microbial activities shape the biogeochemistry of the planet and macroorganism health. Determining the metabolic processes performed by microbes is important both for understanding and for manipulating ecosystems (for example, disruption of key processes that lead to disease, conservation of environmental services, and so on). Describing microbial function is hampered by the inability to culture most microbes and by high levels of genomic plasticity. Metagenomic approaches analyse microbial communities to determine the metabolic processes that are important for growth and survival in any given environment. Here we conduct a metagenomic comparison of almost 15 million sequences from 45 distinct microbiomes and, for the first time, 42 distinct viromes and show that there are strongly discriminatory metabolic profiles across environments. Most of the functional diversity was maintained in all of the communities, but the relative occurrence of metabolisms varied, and the differences between metagenomes predicted the biogeochemical conditions of each environment. The magnitude of the microbial metabolic capabilities encoded by the viromes was extensive, suggesting that they serve as a repository for storing and sharing genes among their microbial hosts and influence global evolutionary and metabolic processes.
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