DNA sequencing advances our understanding of microbes

Microbes are the oldest form of life on earth, dating back more than 3.5 billion years.1 These single-cell organisms are so tiny that millions can fit into the eye of a needle and their importance to the world is underscored; without them we couldn’t eat or breathe. Understanding microbes is vital to our understanding of the earth’s past, present, and future.

Today, numerous organizations are leading microbial genomic studies, including the sequencing of more than 100 organisms of the world’s oceans as part of the J. Craig Venter™ Institute’s Global Ocean Sampling Expedition, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Microbiome Project, which seeks to characterize the genomes of the 1,000+ microbial communities that live in and on the human body. These endeavors will enable scientists to impact human health and the world around us.

Next-generation sequencing technologies have been indispensable in the characterization of microorganisms. For researchers characterizing the genomic structures of microbes, de novo sequencing and assembly of complete genomes is an important step. These basic research projects require deep coverage across the genome and high-quality data. Ion Torrent™ Semiconductor sequencing has revolutionized de novo sequencing for microbial research. By democratizing sequencing through a simple, low-cost system that is designed to deliver accurate results in less than a day, more and more sequencing projects that were previously unattainable due to budget or time constraints are now feasible. With 400 base pair sequencing on the Ion PGM™ System, sequencing assembly metrics are better than ever, providing a fast path to whole genome sequencing.

Next-generation sequencing is also critical for microbial typing. This information can be used to facilitate a rapid response during disease surveillance, outbreak investigations, and for disease etiology determination. The Ion PGM™ System was used in the sequencing of disease-causing E. coli microbes in Germany in 2011. This sequence information helped scientists determine from which strains the new bacteria evolved and whether it had picked up other genetic codes that made it more toxic. The information led to the rapid development of a custom qPCR assay to accurately detect this E. coli bacterium and to screen food samples.

For more information on microbial sequencing solutions, download the Microbial Sequencing Brochure.


  1. American Society for Microbiology website. What is a Microbe?