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Chapter 13 : Big Questions and Future Prospects
This chapter discusses questions related to microbial biocatalysis and biodegradation. These questions were selected for their important impact on applications in biocatalysis and biodegradation and on one's basic understanding of microbial physiology, genomics, and ecology. The preponderance of Pseudomonas and related species in the biodegradation literature is due, at least in part, to the conditions used for their enrichment and cultivation. Comparative genomics is beginning to show, not unexpectedly, that the amount of catabolic metabolism encoded in the genome varies considerably, depending on whether the bacterium is an obligate parasitic pathogen or a soil organism known to have extensive biodegradative capabilities, such as Pseudomonas spp. and Sphingomonas spp. It is unclear how rapidly new metabolism can evolve, practically and theoretically. One approach that promises to shed light on this is the use of directed evolution in the laboratory. This can reveal the plasticity of microbial enzymes and pathways and point the way toward a better understanding of what happens in the soils of the world. It seems very likely that even more challenges will be posed for microbial metabolism, and one will need to continually discover new microbial metabolism to match the discovery of new organic compounds.