Insights into the Function of Microbial Dark Matter in Environmental Biotechnology

William Mong Distinguished Lecture by Professor Per Halkjær Nielsen
Mar 27, 2018

Professor Per Halkjær Nielsen from Aalborg University, Denmark, gave a lecture on March 27, 2018 (Tuesday) titled “Insights into the Function of Microbial Dark Matter in Environmental Biotechnology”.

The unprecedented development in DNA technologies over the past 10 years has revolutionized the capabilities to investigate and understand the microbes as the key to sustainable development in water and wastewater treatment, bioremediation, recovery of nutrients, and production of bioenergy. The vast majority of these microbes cannot be isolated and cultivated in the laboratory and thus constitute biological “dark matter” of which we understand very little. Novel DNA technologies are likely key to revealing the potential activities of the microbial communities that underpin important processes in environmental biotechnology, and the results from their application have revealed fascinating and promising insights. Metagenomes provide an efficient and fast way to retrieve high quality genomes from environmental microbial communities. Presented examples include recovery of genomes from novel or poorly described uncultured species, some of these from novel candidate phyla without cultured representatives. The genome recovery and annotation of metabolic pathways can facilitate targeted metatranscriptomics and metaproteomics that, combined with various single cell techniques such as Raman microspectroscopy, can resolve the in situ physiologies of otherwise elusive microbes. This novel understanding about the microbial dark matter can be applied for “online” DNA sequencing, surveillance, and control of engineered systems such as wastewater treatment plants or anaerobic digesters.