High-throughput DNA Sequencingin Microbial Ecology : Methods and Applications
Abstract: Microorganisms play central roles in planet Earth’s geochemical cycles, in food production, and in health and disease of humans and livestock. In spite of this, most microbial life forms remain unknown and unnamed, their ecological importance and potential technological applications beyond the realm of speculation. This is due both to the magnitude of microbial diversity and to technological limitations. Of the many advances that have enabled microbiology to reach new depth and breadth in the past decade, one of the most important is affordable high-throughput DNA sequencing. This technology plays a central role in each paper in this thesis.Papers I and II are focused on developing methods to survey microbial diversity based on marker gene amplification and sequencing. In Paper I we proposed a computational strategy to design primers with the highest coverage among a given set of sequences and applied it to drastically improve one of the most commonly used primer pairs for ecological surveys of prokaryotes. In Paper II this strategy was applied to an eukaryotic marker gene. Despite their importance in the food chain, eukaryotic microbes are much more seldom surveyed than bacteria. Paper II aimed at making this domain of life more amenable to high-throughput surveys.In Paper III, the primers designed in papers I and II were applied to water samples collected up to twice weekly from 2011 to 2013 at an offshore station in the Baltic proper, the Linnaeus Microbial Observatory. In addition to tracking microbial communities over these three years, we created predictive models for hundreds of microbial populations, based on their co-occurrence with other populations and environmental factors.In paper IV we explored the entire metagenomic diversity in the Linnaeus Microbial Observatory. We used computational tools developed in our group to construct draft genomes of abundant bacteria and archaea and described their phylogeny, seasonal dynamics and potential physiology. We were also able to establish that, rather than being a mixture of genomes from fresh and saline water, the Baltic Sea plankton community is composed of brackish specialists which diverged from other aquatic microorganisms thousands of years before the formation of the Baltic itself.
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