Welcome to Molecular Ecology
Long before plants and animals had evolved, single celled microorganisms have shaped Earth and ever since they remained essential for the habitability of our blue planet. Nucleic acid-based technologies opened a window to discover the full diversity of marine microorganisms. Whereas only thousands of species of Bacteria and Archaea have been described by cultivation-based methods, we are identifying millions by molecular fingerprinting. Today high throughput sequencing is providing ample data on species richness and evenness, yet quantification of the individual species remains difficult. Here we apply fluorescence in situ hybridization for the microscopic identification of single microbial cells and their localization in the environment. Comparative genome analysis and assays tracing the uptake of substrates by single cells allow us to deduce the physiological role and biochemical potential of not yet cultivated Bacteria and Archaea. Our ultimate goal is to proceed beyond quantitative descriptions of microbial communities. We predict the niche and recurrence of marine microbes, and test these hypotheses in the environment by assigning functions to taxonomic clades.