Microbes make life on Earth possible. From helping us to digest food to maintaining the atmospheric conditions that make Earth livable, microbes are essential for human health and for our environment. Metagenomics offers a powerful lens for viewing the microbial world and it has revolutionized our understanding of life. This field will lead to advances in Human Health, Earth Science and Global Change, Agriculture, Environmental Remediation, Energy, Astrobiology...

Metagenomics and Astrobiology:

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. How does life begin and evolve? Is there life beyond Earth? Can microorganisms live in extreme environments?

Metagenomics could help answering these questions by analyzing microbial genomic data from extreme environments.

Microorganisms have inhabited the Earth for 3.4 billion years of its history, there are essential for the evolution of its minerals, its major geochemical cycles, and its atmosphere, yet the extent of their diversity, their metabolic capabilities, and their ecosystem-level interactions remain vastly unexplored. The large-scale effects of microbial activities is not only critical to learn more about the biosphere, how to better conserve resources and protect the environment but it is also required to interpret the spectra and molecular signatures observe from extraterrestrial planets and moons. 

Most microorganisms that inhabit extreme environments are Archaea. A better understanding of these extremophiles is of interest for the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) because of its relevance to possible life on other planets. 

The Atacama Desert and the Antarctica are both Mars analogue environments because of their dryness and extreme temperature. The study of soil samples from these two locations could improve our understanding of genetic diversity in microbial populations adapted to extreme dryness. 

The analysis of these samples combines two parts: 

The Metadata Collection that contains all the pH, relative humidity, electrical conductivity, geochemistry, and cell count information, and the Metagenomic Collection containing all the genetic diversity information.

The sequence data is first analyzed with a pipeline called CloVR-16S that  enables the characterization and comparison of the microbial communities from two Earth analog for Mars environment. Interpreting the data and correlating the sequence data to the metadata is such a challenge that it is necessary to improve software and statistical tools. 

Tiffany Souterre
Promo 2013

Project in collaboration with:

Prof. Jocelyne DiRuggiero
Johns Hopkins University.

127 Mudd Hall Department of Biology Johns Hopkins University
3400 N. Charles Street Baltimore, MD 21218-2685

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