Peering into the Lives of Microbes: A Workshop on How We May Advance Our Understanding of the Microbial World

June 2014

Despite their diminutive size, microbes run our biosphere. They are the primary mediators of nearly every biogeochemical cycle, from carbon and nitrogen to methane and metals. Recent years have been a watershed for our understanding of microbes, largely due to advances in sequencing technologies. Via these approaches, we have revealed previously unrecognized microbial diversity in every corner of our biosphere and have sequenced hundreds of microbial genomes. Our understanding of the metabolic and physiological activity, however, remains in its infancy. Despite the aforementioned advances, we have not made significant progress in growing (culturing) microbes, and to date over 99 percent of known microbial "species" continue to elude cultivation. In particular, our ability to interrogate their physiology while they exist as complex communities remains limited. This seminar brings together experts in medical and environmental microbiology, materials science, chemistry and chemical biology, and environmental policy 1) to discuss the state of the art in microbiology and their influence in our world (including human health) and 2) to identify the most salient approaches to advancing our understanding of these critical yet enigmatic members of our biosphere.