A grant has been awarded to Dr. David Relman (Stanford University) and sponsoring organization the American Academy of Microbiology (Washington, DC) for a colloquium entitled "The Global Genome Question: Microbes as the Key to Understanding Evolution and Ecology," October 11-13, 2002, in Longboatkey, FL. A group of 30-40 invited scientists will participate; spending 2 days in deliberations designed to produce the intellectual material for an analytical and comprehensive report. The primary objective is to map out a new research paradigm that departs from analysis of the genomes of cultivated microbes and moves toward understanding the relationship and interplay among the genome and community evolution and dynamics.
Microbes carry enormous genetic wealth and biological aptitude. Humans have already exploited the biochemical competence and versatility of these tiny creatures in medicine, agriculture, ecology, and studies of evolution. But while investigators tap into the tremendous resources stored in microbial genomes, more questions--and some problems--have become apparent. Many of these difficulties are typical of any rapidly growing enterprise; still others are specific to this new scientific arena. The unparalleled benefits of genome science make it critical that important questions receive coordinated attention and that issues are resolved. Building on the groundbreaking work of sequencing individual genomes in the laboratory, scientists know that much more can be learned from a new research approach that focuses on (1) understanding genomes in an evolutionary and ecological context and (2) addressing evolutionary and ecological questions using genomics-enabled methods and analyses. Population dynamics, recombination, and lateral gene transfer look to be driving forces of genomic and ecosystem evolution. If so, genome evolution and ecosystem dynamics are part of the same process--a process that can be understood through the study of communities of microorganisms in environments, rather than individual strains or isolated systems in the lab.