The Power of One: Redefining Microbial Genomics by Sequencing Individual Organisms


Thursday, June 23, 2011
Redfield Auditorium - 12:00 Noon
Dr. Ramunas Stepanauskas
Director of Bigelow Single Cell Genomics Center, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

Reading genetic information in individual cells is a major breakthrough for biology, because it enables studies of hereditary information at the most fundamental organizational level of all living organisms. In the case of prokaryotes and protists, each cell is a separate organism. Although invisible to human eyes, such unicellular microorganisms are the oldest, the most abundant, and the most diverse forms of life on our planet with an enormous impact on global biogeochemistry and human health. Over 99% of microbial species remain uncultured, making it impossible to study them using classical microbiology methods. Single cell sequencing provides rapid access to genomes of the uncultured microbes and to the genetic variation among individual cells of unicellular as well as multi-cellular organisms.

Genomic sequencing from individual cells has now been demonstrated by multiple research groups. However, it’s use remains constrained by the need for expensive, specialized equipment. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences established the first high-throughput facility providing single cell genomics services to the broad scientific community. During its first year in operation, Bigelow Single Cell Genomics Center (SCGC) contributed to cutting-edge research projects at over 20 organizations around the globe. Over 150,000 individual cells have been analyzed by SCGC so far, providing unique access to genomic DNA, without cultivation biases, from microorganisms representing over 60 phyla of bacteria, archaea and protists. Examples of SCGC research accomplishments include discoveries of inorganic carbon fixation pathways in abundant bacterial groups in the dark ocean, trophic interactions of uncultured protists, evolution of organelles, etc. Thus, single cell genomics is emerging as a transformative research approach in diverse areas of biological research.