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Ernest Szeto Co-Authors Metagenomic Analysis of Termite Gut Microbes

November 26, 2007

Ernest Szeto of CRD’s Biological Data Management and Technology Center (BDMTC) contributed to a groundbreaking metagenomic analysis of termite gut microbes published in the November 22 issue of Nature (F. Warnecke et al., “Metagenomic and functional analysis of hindgut microbiota of a wood-feeding higher termite,” Nature 450, 560–565). The genomic sequencing and analysis of the termite gut microbes was carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) and several research partners.

Termites — notorious for their voracious appetite for wood, rendering houses to dust and causing billions of dollars in damage per year — may provide the biochemical means to a greener biofuel future. The bellies of these tiny beasts actually harbor a gold mine of microbes that have now been tapped as a rich source of enzymes for improving the conversion of wood or waste biomass to valuable biofuels.

"The data set provided by Warnecke et al. is a treasure trove for researchers,” wrote Andreas Brune, a researcher in the Department of Biogeochemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Germany, in a separate article commenting on the research in the same issue of Nature.

The termite gut metagenome dataset will become publicly available in the next version of DOE JGI’s metagenome data management and analysis system, IMG/M (, scheduled for release in January 2008. Szeto was responsible for data processing and loading the dataset into IMG/M.

For more information and to view a video about this research, go to