Sunday, September 14, 2008

The DNA of NY air

A bloke is sampling New York's air to extract the DNA from its microbes.

A 'microbe' is a rather generic term for a microscopic organism. The sample would encompass bacteria and fungal spores in particular, as well as a few other stray strands. Report here.

The scientist is Craig Ventner, who competed against the publicly funded project to sequence the human genome. He states that only about 1% of the organic matter in the air could be cultivated in a laboratory.

A fascinating experiment for one of the most urban centres in the world. Most of the answers would veer into the mundane, but there may be a few surprises, particularly for bacterial DNA, where mutation can be rapid relative to large-scale organisms.

Ventner has apparently uncovered about a million new "genes" from a similar exercise run in the Sargasso Sea (a mass of seaweed in the middle of the Atlantic). That's not too surprising: it is a unique ecosystem. The NY experiment is unlikely to be as productive, but it strikes me as a useful mission.

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