We may think it’s all about us humans, but for more than 3.5 billion years, microorganisms have been the dominant form of life on earth. Over the past decade, high-throughput sequencing and mass spectrometry have generated information about the DNA, RNA, proteins and metabolites found in these microbes. Together, this provides information about their function and identity, linking them to a wider range of ecosystem functions at the individual, population and community levels. There is, however, a paucity of scalable software tools to mine, monitor and interact with environmental datasets. This is particularly frustrating at a time when we as a society are grappling with global climate change, as microbial communities offer a virtual blueprint to rebuild our global future in more sustainable ways.
Dr. Steven Hallam of the University of British Columbia is leading the development of the Environmental Genome Encyclopedia (EngCyc), a compendium of microbial community metabolic blueprints supported by high-performance software tools. Access to EngCyc will be through a web portal and support user-defined blueprint construction in an automated and scalable manner, thus enabling gene and pathway discovery. Its data exploration options will power knowledge creation and translation.
The combination of the web portal and software tools will enable the research community, both nationally and internationally, to more effectively explore and harness the hidden powers of microbial communities, to the benefit of the biorefining, mining and energy sectors, among others.