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Predicting the microbial 'weather'

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Environmental microbiologist Jack Gilbert of the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory heads the Earth Microbiome Project, an initiative to sample and analyze DNA from bacteria, viruses, algae and fungi across the world. Our environment is full of microbes that affect everything from human health to climate change, and these microbes are constantly in flux. One of the project’s goals is to develop models that can predict fluctuations in advance.

“Bacteria mediate everything: your health, your dog’s health, the crops in the field,” Gilbert said. “Without bacteria, there’d be no life. They’ve been around for 3.8 billion years. If they change, we change. We have to.”

Researchers collected years of data on the microbes that live in the English Channel. Each change reverberates up the food chain; one season’s abundance of particular algae can affect how much cod fisherman catch that year.

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