Research NewsBiodiversity

Microbiologists Explore Life's Rich, Hidden Kingdoms

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Science  21 Mar 1997:
Vol. 275, Issue 5307, pp. 1740
DOI: 10.1126/science.275.5307.1740

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For most people, biodiversity brings to mind plants, animals, or maybe insects. But a new breed of scientist, using gene-typing tools borrowed from biology's molecular revolution, is finding evidence of untold millions of new species hidden in the microbial world. Researchers are turning up dozens of groups of bacteria, archaea, and single-celled eukarya in soil, sediments, and water that are at least as genetically distinct from each other as azaleas are from aardvarks. With the new molecular techniques, scientists also are getting glimpses of how human impacts, ranging from oil spills to the buildup of greenhouse gases, are perturbing these busy microscopic communities which provide the nutrients that sustain all other forms of life.