Origin and Extent of Life
Karen Lloyd, University of Tennessee
Newly-discovered microbes represent deep evolutionary branches and comprise the majority populations in many environments. Yet we know little about how these microbes survive and contribute to Earth’s ecosystems. We are gaining the first insights into the genetic content of these communities using single cell genomics and metagenomics. These recently-developed and powerful tools have allowed us to assemble the first nearly complete genomes from uncultured microorganisms. Because these numerous, ubiquitous, and environmentally-relevant microorganisms are so different from any that have been grown in laboratories, they are likely to have novel, interesting, and useful functionalities. New technologies are enabling more and more of this “microbial dark matter” to be studied directly in their natural environments, which allows them to be studied as they function in the wild. The more we learn about the identities and functions of microbes present on Earth today, the more we can hypothesize about the early steps in the origins of life that led to such a diverse array of life forms. This session covers hypotheses about the orginal steps that led to life’s development as well as the wide range of microbial life that exists today.