Our planet’s soils teem with microorganisms that regulate processes from crop productivity to carbon sequestration. Molecular analysis contributes hugely to the characterization of microbial communities, but how can we better understand their ecological functions? Two microbiologists discuss the advantages of data-mining approaches versus targeted experiments.
The topic in brief
- The diverse activities of mixed populations of soil microorganisms are fundamental to ecological processes (Fig. 1).
- These communities are also important indicators of responses to changed conditions.
- Rapid DNA sequencing and other molecular-analysis technologies can provide large-scale data on the combined genomes of a microbial community, potentially revealing unanticipated community members or activities.
- But experiments that test hypotheses on microbe–environment associations may allow more direct identification and analysis of these processes.