Tapping the genetic potential of microbial communities for biodegradation via ecologically-sound metagenomic analysis
School of Life Science and Biotechnology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University
To establish a stable and efficient bioreactor for removing toxic compounds, a seeding sludge with no or very low removing capacity will be first inoculated into the reactor feeding with low concentration of the wastewater to be treated. After gradual increase of concentration of toxic wastewater over a reasonably long period of time, the community in the reactor concomitantly increases its removal efficiency and eventually achieves stable and high degradation capacity for the previously un-degradable compounds. The genetic basis of this acclimation process is actually the enrichment of functional genes, which are needed for removal of the target compounds in the feeding water. These genes may be encoded by genomes of several different members of the community yet they function together to form an inter-genomic metabolic network. One of the major tasks of metagenomics in the environmental field is to discover and identify these functional genes, which are important genetic basis for the community’s degradation capacity. Large scale, economic and efficient strategy for functional gene discovery from microbial communities is still very much in demand. The recent development of massive parallel sequencing method such as 454 and Solexa technologies open the possibility of combining shot-gun sequencing of total community DNA with structural dynamic analysis for discovery of functional genes which are important in each acclimated community. This challenging task provides new opportunities for young computational scientists to establish their career in biology.