One of the talks that has stuck in my mind from the conference was a talk given by Jack Gilbert entitled “Creating a Predictive Model of Microbially Mediated Carbon Remediation in the Gulf of Mexico”. Gilbert spoke about the Earth Microbiome Project, and its goal to analyze microbial populations around the world in an effort to “produce a global Gene Atlas describing protein space, environmental metabolic models for each biome, approximately 500,000 reconstructed microbial genomes, a global metabolic model, and a data-analysis portal for visualization of all information.”
By sampling at various points around the globe or within a certain region and analyzing the community profile and functional gene potential of each sample, variance modeling can be employed to gain insight into the microbial populations and their affluence on the environment, as well as the reciprocal effects that the environment has on the microbial community.
Gilbert illustrated one application of the variance modeling and told us that after analyzing microbial communities from samples gathered in the English Channel, they were able to generate data on the partial pressure of CO2 in the English Channel as a function of time, based on their knowledge of the microbial populations in certain areas at a specific time point. The Variance modeling employed allowed for extrapolation of the sampled points across the English Channel space as well as over the course of a year and including the effects of seasonal changes. The data generated by the model gave CO2 values that were in agreement (around 94%) with the CO2 data released by UNESCO for the same time periods. So cool!
The Earth Microbiome Project has since received 800 sediment samples from the Gulf of Mexico collected between May 2010 and May 2012. After analysis of these samples, the researchers are hoping to use variance modeling to help predict the effects of microbial populations on carbon remediation in the Gulf. Through this research they hope to learn more about the microbial degradation of hydrocarbon throughout the Gulf region and the effects on the carbon cycle, as well as providing insights into interesting places and times of the year for people to sample that might yield novel microbial communities and species.
I found this project fascinating, and although the modeling aspects are beyond my understanding, the biological applications were really cool! It was great being challenged by new concepts and topics outside the specific area that I am focusing on for my senior research. All in the all, the conference was a huge success and a great learning opportunity!