Crystal ball - 2009

2009 Environmental Microbiology Reports  
In this feature, leading researchers in the field of environmental microbiology speculate on the technical and conceptual developments that will drive innovative research and open new vistas over the next few years. A crystal ball is an instrument which -when used properly -helps to gain information on the past, present or future by other means than common human senses and the standard technologies supporting them, with the purpose to use this information to generate knowledge and to aid
more » ... n making. Hence, it could be a very useful tool in environmental microbiology, which deals with an enormous number and diversity of unknown populations, processes and habitats, many of which escape human scales, and almost all of which are not traceable in the past -if we would only know how to use the crystal ball. Esoteric handbooks say that: (i) one must have a specific question to ask, (ii) one must be able to completely concentrate on this question and be very patient until the fog goes away and some information-containing images develop, then (iii) one must accept what one sees and not be blocked by preconceived opinions, finally (iv) the crystal ball is a sensitive tool that must be well maintained, cultivated and surrounded by positive energies. So, doesn't this sound like the good advices we get from our statistics experts and data base managers in how to deal with large and complex data sets? Let us face it, the big challenges in environmental microbiology -such as estimating total microbial diversity and its temporal and spatial patterns in a given habitat, studying evolution and succession of populations, recording and predicting the effects of global change, deciphering biological interactions, understanding the links between genomes and metabolomes in organisms -can only be solved by supernatural clairvoyance, or by a painstaking effort to improve observation, data recording, data accessibility and availability. In other words, the urgent questions in environmental microbiology are known, the methods and technologies are largely available, but the culture and art of retrieving and dealing with A geochemist colleague whom I shall not name likes to provoke microbiologists into friendly arguments by saying 'A microbe is like a piece of platinum'. The essence of this Crystal ball 17
doi:10.1111/j.1758-2229.2008.00010.x pmid:23765716 fatcat:a2h7akkx5zg7pntlrwpwjj6rh4