bacteria to save animal species
Biologists are still in the process of cataloging the microorganisms that live on them and most of the threatened species, says Flinders University marine biologist Elisabeth Dinsdale. She dives with sharks to sample their skin microbiome. About 90 percent of all the organisms she finds there are new species, and her team has identified distinct groups of whale sharks based on their typical skin microbiome.
The next big question is exactly what all these microorganisms are doing for their host. Whole genome sequencing can provide clues because it identifies genes that perform tasks such as digesting plant fibers, tolerating high levels of salt, or rendering heavy metals harmless. However, culturing cultures in the laboratory to determine the role of microorganisms is still time consuming, expensive, and very challenging for many microorganisms. However, automated procedures promise to speed up the process. In this way, experts can observe the behavior of microbes in the community with others.
Some researchers are already experimenting with “microbiome engineering,” in which they specifically alter the composition of microbes. For example, bacterial communities in coral slime are sensitive to temperature and pollutants—extremely hot seas can trigger corals to expel symbiotic microalgae, known as coral bleaching.
Australia is testing whether coral reefs can harden the climate by treating them with “a kind of microbial elixir” that better adapt to fluctuating temperatures, says Elizabeth Dinsdale. Other ecologists in Australia have shown that it is possible to alter the koala’s microbiome by moving the gut microbiome so that the marsupials can digest other species of eucalyptus.
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