Metagenomics, also known as environmental genomics, ecogenomics and community genomics, is a powerful tool used for the analysis of microbial communities. Metagenomics studies environmental samples which are taken directly from nature, so no prior cloning or culturing is needed. Metagenomics has allowed the detailed examination of many unculturable and unknown microbes which is helping to change and advance the field of microbiology.



Metagenomics was first proposed by Norman R Pace in 1985 although the term “metagenomics” was first used in publication in 1998. Those who first used this term were Jo Handelsman, Jon Clardy, Robert M. Goodman, Sean F. Brady, and others.


Source: Norman R Pace

Two technologies used in metagenomics are shotgun sequencing and high throughput sequencing. Shotgun sequencing is a method used to sequence long DNA strands. This process includes cutting DNA and sequencing each short fragment then rebuilding them into a consensus sequence. This process shows the genes that are in the sample taken from the environment. Shotgun metagenomics reveals information about the present organisms and the possible metabolic processes in the community. With this much data being revealed just with this process, cloning, previously used to make the process easier, is no longer needed. High throughput sequencing uses pyrosequencing 454 to determine the order of nucleotide bases using the “sequencing by synthesis” principle. 3 other technologies used in high throughput sequencing are the Ion Torrent Personal Genome Machine, the Illumina MiSeq or HiSeq and the Applied Biosystems SOLiD system. These technologies produce smaller fragments than another technology but, they are advancing and they give more sequence reads than the other technology. This also doesn’t require cloning the DNA before the process which removes bias and extra labour.

Source: 454 Life Sciences

            Metagenomics can be applied in so many ways, including in medicine, biofuels, and environmental remediation. In medicine, we know that microbial communities are very important when it comes to human health. However, we still don’t know exactly how these microbial communities are helping to preserve human health. There is research being conducted to characterize these microbial communities and to gain a better understanding of them for medical purposes (more on this later). Also, knowledge and understanding of microbial communities can help with the understanding and production of biofuel. To deconstruct biomass in an efficient way, new enzymes that effectively produce at a higher rate and cost less are needed. The targeted examining and testing of enzymes applied in biofuels is allowed by the metagenomic approach of analyzing complex microbial communities. As for environmental remediation, understanding how microbial communities deal with the pollution in the environment can help us figure out some new strategies to deal with pollution and to help the environment. Other applications include, agriculture, biotechnology and ecology.


Source: Watershed Discovery

Metagenomics has greatly advanced our knowledge on microbial communities by allowing us to see more of the biodiversity we could not previously see using traditional methods. It has opened our eyes to unknown microscopic life which can help us in various ways just by studying and understanding it. This knowledge can be used in various fields, such as medicine. Metagenomics is being used to study and understand the microbial communities that reside in our digestive systems. 124 individuals that are either healthy, overweight or who are patients of irritable bowel disease were being studied. This was in order to categorize the phylogenetic diversity of the gastrointestinal bacteria as well as the depth of these bacteria. Metagenomics was also used in another project. This study was conducted to determine wether there is a core human microbiome, this will help us understand the changes in the microbiome that can be linked to human health.


Source: Metagenomics is Changing Medicine

Metagenomics has the potential to change the world because it has revealed a lot more of the diversity in microorganisms that could not be revealed using the traditional microbiology methods. In addition, the costs for DNA research are becoming less and less as time goes on which allows studies on microbial ecology to be more detailed and on a greater scale with metagenomics. This can be very helpful in many important fields and applications such as medicine, environmental remediation, biofuels and more! In summary, metagenomics has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the living world thanks to its ability to show us more of the diversity in microscopic life which we couldn’t see before!

“Metagenomics.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016 Nature Publishing Group, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016
Wooley, John C., and Yuzhen Ye. “Metagenomics: Facts and Artifacts, and Computational Challenges*.” Journal of Computer Science and Technology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.