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Study reveals new technique for fingerprinting environmental samples

Groundbreaking research led by the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) demonstrates for the first time that the signatures of the genes alone in terrestrial and aquatic samples can accurately diagnose the health of the sampled environments. This study, published in the April 22nd edition of the journal Science positions large-scale genome sequencing to accelerate advances in environmental sciences akin to the contributions DNA sequencing has made to biomedical sciences.

"These DNA sequence fingerprints can be used to provide highly accurate assessments of the vitality of extremely diverse environments," said Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, Director of the DOE Office of Science, which supported the research. "These fingerprints can be used to reveal environments under stress as well as signal progress in remediating contaminated environments. This may well develop environmental ecology into a fully quantitative science."

Dubbed Environmental Genomic Tags, or EGTs, these indicators capture a DNA profile of a particular niche and reflect the presence and levels of nutrients, pollutants, and other environmental features.

The EGT approach employed in the study shares similarities with aspects of the Human Genome Project research. In the early 1990s, incomplete fragments of human genes called Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs) were used as diagnostic fingerprints for human tissues to determine their unique features and disease status. These information-rich data allowed researchers to forge ahead with studying genes important in disease processes, long before the completion of the entire human genome.

"EGT fingerprints may be able to offer fundamental insights into the factors impacting on various environments," said DOE JGI Director, Eddy Rubin, who led the research team. "With EGTs we don't actually need a complete genome's worth of data to understand the functions required of the organisms living in a particular setting. Rather,
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Source:DOE/Joint Genome Institute


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