Unlike bacteria which thrive in the human body, soil microbes are incredibly difficult to cultivate in the lab-you can’t just inoculate a Petri dish and return in the morning.
Rather than assuming bacteria and other microorganisms lead lives that occasionally intersect with the macroscopic world, we would come to learn that microbes exert their influence in various and surprising ways.
Jansson and one of her collaborators, Terry Hazen, also a microbiologist at the Berkeley Lab, asked BP, which was already funding Jansson’s work on oil and microbes, if they would be willing to back a study of Gulf bacteria populations.
If we could harness the Gulf’s oil-loving bacteria, they could be used to mop up a spill more quickly. Soil microbiologists-including Jansson-have been studying the intimate relationship between bacteria and plants.
If we’ve known about beneficial soil bacteria for years, why has it taken so long for the field to thrive? One reason is certainly our ability to inexpensively sequence DNA and RNA from soil, making it easier than ever to survey microbial communities.
Jansson is hopeful that by mapping that diversity, we can gain a better understanding of the role bacteria play in the environment and in our bodies-and how we can use them.