DNA has been referred to as the “blueprints” of an organism. The DNA contains all of the information required for an organism to live. By studying an organism’s DNA, we can learn how that organism processes food and acquires energy, interacts with other organisms and its environment, and even the evolutionary history of the organism. If we sequence the DNA from an entire community of organisms, we can learn these things about the whole community – who is there, and what they are capable of doing. You may have heard of this type of analysis, called metagenomics, used is in the study of the microbial communities living in our gut, but it can be applied to any system where microbes live. (Hint: it’s everywhere!)
DNA sequencing technology has been around since the early 1970’s, but only recently has it become economically viable, through Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), to produce the vast amounts of sequence required to analyze more than just one copy of one gene at a time. AlgaXperts uses NGS to perform a Community Analysis to understand what kinds of microbes are living in your water and what they are capable of doing. We are able to detect the presence of toxin-producing Cyanobacteria, human and animal pathogens, or even community imbalances that might be contributing to aesthetic problems.
Many companies purport to be able to provide this kind of analysis, but usually all the customer receives is a Diversity Analysis, or list of bacteria that are present in the water, and in what relative amounts. At AlgaXperts, our scientists are experienced aquatic ecologists, so we are able to tell the client what the results mean. In addition to the Diversity Analysis, we can also provide a Functional Analysis, which can provide information on what exactly is happening in the water. For example, a Diversity Analysis may reveal the presence of a cyanobacterium, but a Functional Analysis can reveal if it is capable of producing toxins, and which ones.
Breakdown on types of Community Analyses:
- Diversity Analysis – Detects which microbes are in a sample, and in what relative amounts (Who is there?)
- Requires a relatively small samples
- Functional inference is weak at best, and often not possible
- Functional Analysis – Along with detecting who is there, detects the functional capabilities of a microbial community (What are they doing?)
- Strong inference of functional capabilities
- More nuanced understanding of community dynamics
- More expensive
- Analysis is time-consuming
- Requires larger samples