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Chapter 25 : Metamicrobiology: Analyzing Microbial Behavior at the Community Level
This chapter explores the intersection of stress biology, community ecology, and meta-level molecular sciences. The understanding of bacterial life is more sophisticated than that of any other group of organisms, despite the tremendous physiological complexity that is the hallmark of the prokaryotes. Much of microbial cell and molecular biology is based on the assumption that the behaviors of individuals and populations of cells are the same and this is often the case. Communities can be thought of as collections of organisms, each conducting a living in the context of the rest of the community. Metagenomics provides a system-level approach to studying communities of microorganisms. In studies of gene discovery based on functional expression, metagenomics can facilitate analysis of genes in both the culturable and unculturable portions of the community. The gut microbial community is emerging as one of the most influential organs in the human body. The fusion of reductionism and systems biology can be found in metagenetics, which is the application of classical bacterial genetics to understanding communities as systems. An interesting mixture of diffusible signals and direct contact comprises the arsenal of messages used by bacteria and fungi in the mouth. Future research will need to unite metagenomics with many other approaches, including metagenetics. The richness of the interplay is particularly well illustrated by the application of genomics and mutant analysis to community-level events in the oral biofilm.