Molecular approaches to marine microbial ecology and the marine nitrogen cycle

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28 Scopus citations


Microbes are recognized as important components of the Earth system, playing key roles in controlling the composition of the atmosphere and surface waters, forming the basis of the marine food web, and the cycling of chemicals in the ocean. A revolution in microbial ecology has occurred in the past 15-20 years with the advent of rapid methods for discovering and sequencing the genes of uncultivated microbes from natural environments. Initially based on sequences from the 16S rRNA gene, this revolution made it possible to identify microorganisms without first cultivating them, to discover and characterize the immense previously unsuspected diversity of the microbial world, and to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships among microbes. Subsequent focus on functional genes, those that encode enzymes that catalyze biogeochemical transformations, and current work on larger DNA fragments and entire genomes make it possible to link microbial diversity to ecosystem function. These approaches have yielded insights into the regulation of microbial activity and proof of the microbial role in biogeochemical processes previously unknown. Questions raised by the molecular revolution, which are now the focus of microbial ecology research, include the significance of microbial diversity and redundancy to biogeochemical processes and ecosystem function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-333
Number of pages33
JournalAnnual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences
StatePublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • 16S rRNA
  • Diversity
  • Functional genes
  • Gene expression
  • Genomics


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