The importance of metagenomic surveys to microbial ecology: or why Darwin would have been a metagenomic scientist. Academic Article uri icon


  • Scientific discovery is incremental. The Merriam-Webster definition of 'Scientific Method' is "principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses". Scientists are taught to be excellent observers, as observations create questions, which in turn generate hypotheses. After centuries of science we tend to assume that we have enough observations to drive science, and enable the small steps and giant leaps which lead to theories and subsequent testable hypotheses. One excellent example of this is Charles Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, which was essentially an opportunistic survey of biodiversity. Today, obtaining funding for even small-scale surveys of life on Earth is difficult; but few argue the importance of the theory that was generated by Darwin from his observations made during this epic journey. However, these observations, even combined with the parallel work of Alfred Russell Wallace at around the same time have still not generated an indisputable 'law of biology'. The fact that evolution remains a 'theory', at least to the general public, suggests that surveys for new data need to be taken to a new level.

publication date

  • June 14, 2011