Traditional water testing has relied on microbes that are collected from the river and grown (cultured) on a nutrient-rich medium in a lab. But there’s one big problem with that process.
The Mississippi River contains 5,000 to 10,000 species of microorganisms.
Less than 1% of all those little microorganisms can be analyzed in a lab by culturing them. Most of the other organisms can’t be grown in a lab setting. Some depend on other microbes and can’t exist in isolation. And science just hasn’t identified a great number of the thousands of different types of microorganisms in the water.
Breaking down these organisms into their genetic codes – which metagenomics accomplishes – can be a powerful tool to get around this long-standing problem. Digging into the genes of microorganisms gives us a more full picture of life on our planet.