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Review
, 26 (1), 37-57

Molecular Techniques for Determining Microbial Diversity and Community Structure in Natural Environments

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Review

Molecular Techniques for Determining Microbial Diversity and Community Structure in Natural Environments

J Theron et al. Crit Rev Microbiol.

Abstract

The ability to quantify the number and kinds of microorganisms within a community is fundamental to the understanding of the structure and function of an ecosystem. The simple morphology of most microbes provides few clues for their identification and physiological traits are often ambiguous. In addition, many organisms resist cultivation, which is essential to their characterization. Recombinant DNA techniques have provided a means whereby many of the obstacles associated with cultivation and description can be overcome and subsequently has allowed many new insights into the complexity of natural microbial communities. Molecular approaches based on 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) sequence analysis allow direct investigation of the community structure, diversity, and phylogeny of microorganisms in almost any environment, while quantification of the individual types of microorganisms or entire microbial communities may be addressed by nucleic acid hybridization techniques. Furthermore, the use of fluorescently labeled population-specific rRNA probes allows microscopic examination of individual cells in complex microbial assemblages as well as their interactions in situ. In this review, we discuss strategies for characterizing microbial communities without the need for cultivation.

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