I’d like to tell you a little bit about this project that we recently started
called the Minnesota Mississippi Metagenome Project,
and what our project is about is to examine the
Mississippi River for the diversity and types of
microorganisms that are present in the river.
So the question really is why is microbial diversity important?
And microorganisms really are the driving force
or the engine that runs our planet. They are involved in
the recycling of materials like carbon and nutrients
and also the global cycling of elements on the planet.
And we decided to start our project at the headwaters
of the Mississippi, which is at Lake Itasca, and utilize
all of the facilities that Lake Itasca has to help get
this project going. And the idea then was to obtain
samples along the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca
down to the Twin Cities campus and examine the impact
that human population has on the types of microorganisms
that are present in the Mississippi River. What really makes
this an important project is that we’re at the headwaters
of the Mississippi where we think that the water
is relatively pure and the microorganisms present
are in their natural state. And Itasca’s field station
is going to play a prominent role in this project,
not only providing us access directly to those water samples,
but also providing the facilities for students and their instructors
to interact together to decipher this important information.
Now I didn’t tell you what a metagenome is and
I think that’s important to understand. So the metagenome
represents the sum total of all the genetic information
that’s present in a given environmental sample. The sample
could be as small as a raindrop on a leaf or as large as
50 gallons of water from a lake. It really doesn’t matter exactly
what the sample size is, it just changes the type of
question you can ask. Metagenomics is a relatively new science
and it really came as an offshoot of the development of
high throughput or rapid DNA sequencing technology.
Its heyday is now. It started about four to five years ago,
but it’s really taking off now with really important projects,
such as the human metagenome projects that are carried out
around the United States right now. There are metagenome
analyses of soils, water, intestinal tracts of organisms,
the guts of insects. There is a large amount of information
that we can gain using these high throughput technologies.