Public Release: 

The American Academy of Microbiology releases report

Microbial Communities: From Life Apart to Life Together

American Society for Microbiology

Washington, D.C., (September 22, 2003)--The size of microbes belies their impact across the globe, especially when they are grouped together in microbial communities. Microbial communities have significant effects upon virtually all aspects of human and environmental health, from films inside household water pipes, to the vast communities in the oceans that process global cycling of nutrients, to the increasingly important problem of antibiotic resistance.

A new report from the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM), entitled "Microbial Communities: From Life Apart to Life Together," presents issues surrounding microbial communities and their role in human health, industrial processes, and ecology along with recommendations for future research, education, and collaboration. The report is based on an AAM-sponsored colloquium on May 3-5, 2002, entitled "Microbial Communities: Advantages of Multicellular Cooperation" held in Tucson, Arizona.

"Microbial communities operate on every scale and in every environment," says colloquium co-chair E. Peter Greenberg, Ph.D., University of Iowa. "These communities are important drivers of many of nature's cycles, such as atmospheric cooling and weather patterns. Furthermore, many of the infections that we can't handle well, that are resistant to antibiotics, are caused by these communities of microbes."

Part of the colloquium's value, according to Greenberg, was in bringing together microbiologists from very different subdisciplines to see what they could offer each other. "One of the exciting things is that many new tools have become available that should advance our common progress, such as new microscopy techniques for looking at communities and genomic techniques that allow us to see what genes are being expressed in communities at any one time."

The report discusses the importance of microbial community functions to human and environmental concerns; the status of current research findings in the field; the technologies available for investigating communities; and educational and collaboration needs. Shedding light on some of the phenomena surrounding microbial communities, the report provides clues about their stability, development, and the mechanisms that govern the locations of individual members.

From the major biogeochemical cycles to medical implications and possibilities for new commercial applications, microbial communities affect our lives in innumerable ways. Yet, many of these functions and potential applications involve microbes about which we know little, that have never been cultivated, and that operate differently than individual microbes or single species do. The participants emphasized the need to develop a few appropriate model communities to assist researchers in addressing many unanswered questions.

The colloquium sponsors included the National Science Foundation; the U.S. Department of Energy; the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health; Aurora Biosciences Corporation; Microbia, Inc.; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation. The colloquium participants included representatives from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Montana State University, University of Minnesota, Indiana University, Harvard Medical School, and Cornell University.


The American Academy for Microbiology (AAM) is the honorific leadership group of the American Society for Microbiology. The mission of AAM is to recognize scientific excellence, as well as foster knowledge and understanding in the microbiological sciences. For more information about the American Society for Microbiology, contact Barbara Hyde at 202-942-9206 or visit

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