A colloquium was convened by the American Academy of Microbiology to consider issues relating to the blossoming field of microbial genomic science. The colloquium was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 19-21, 1999. The principal findings of the colloquium are summarized below.
Microbes carry enormous genetic wealth and biological aptitude. Humans have already exploited these resources to enhance the quality of our lives in many ways. We have adopted the biochemical competence and versatility of these tiny creatures in medicine, agriculture, ecology, and studies of evolution.
The advent of DNA sequencing on a large scale brings with it the increasing ability to unravel and compile the genetic secrets of any living thing. Microbiologists are currently in a position to delve into these small organisms and to emerge with valuable information that can be put to both practical and theoretical use. This information will increase our understanding of how microbes contribute to health and disease of our bodies and of natural environments. It will also promote advances in food production, bioremediation, and drug design. It will extend our insight into how organisms weave the complex web that sustains them—and indirectly ourselves—and will allow us to reconstruct the origin of life and understand how it continues to evolve.
Investigators have already begun to tap into this tremendous store of knowledge. As the field of microbial genomic science has begun to grow, however, various problems have become apparent. Many of these are typical of a rapidly expanding enterprise; others are specific to this new scientific arena. The unique benefits of genomics can point to the importance of these problems and the need for coordinated attention. The colloquium participants discussed how to address these challenges so as to foster most effectively the expansion and vigor of this novel and invaluable endeavor.
Genomic science has the power to revolutionize microbiology, which in turn will transform and improve life on this planet. In order to realize this potential, strategic interventions are required now.