Breaking Ground in Open Resource Metagenomics
By Katie Webb, CBB Biographer
November 29, 2012
It is the thrill of discovery that motivates Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology member and University of Waterloo professor Dr. Trevor Charles, He and his team perform research not only on plant-microbe interactions, but also work to create platforms through which scientific discoveries can be made and their resulting knowledge can be shared with colleagues worldwide.
Charles has built a knowledge base around what he and others have discovered over several years researching the soil bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti, a bacterium that forms nitrogen-fixing nodules on alfalfa roots. This nitrogen fixation reduces the requirement for additional nitrogen fertilizer for optimal crop productivity. A very advanced genetic system has been developed for this bacterium, and has made possible the application of chromosome engineering for research purposes and potentially for the construction of improved strains that fix nitrogen even better.
Soil microbial community composition can vary greatly, and the productivity of crops can be substantially affected by the nature of the soil it is grown in. A popular view among soil microbiologists is that an important contributor to this difference in productivity is the microbial content of the soil. Currently, Charles and collaborators are investigating ways that the soil microbes may be responsible for the productivity of a crop. This centres around different types of bacteria that grow within plants with beneficial effects on productivity, and in some instances keeping other pathogens away.
In recognition of the importance of sharing knowledge, Charles has been involved in initiating the Canadian MetaMicroBiome Library. The library houses environmental DNA metagenomic libraries from across Canada (and in the future other countries) that are available to other scientists who wish to use them to further contribute to scientific discovery in the field of functional metagenomics. This is the concept of Open Resource Metagenomics. Building this resource for the Canadian and international research communities reflects Charles’ belief in the advancement of science through sharing and collaboration.
Recently, Charles’ work with the Canadian MetaMicroBiome Library was highlighted as a platform for sharing metagenomic resources at the first International Functional Metagenomics Workshop. The workshop, held in St. Jacobs, Ontario in May, 2012, brought together scientists from around the world and focused on open resource metagenomics. This led to the first International Functional Metagenomics Conference that took place in June 2013 in South Africa. Buoyed by the success of these two events, a new community of functional metagenomics researchers is rapidly being established.