Table: Mining Microbes

Researchers are tapping a hitherto unknown world of microbes--a kind of parallel biological universe--that holds promise as a source of new antibiotics, cancer drugs, and industrial chemicals unlike anything seen before. Here is how they do it:

-- A sample is taken from soil, seawater, a boiling undersea volcanic vent, or another locale

-- Instead of searching for whole microbes, scientists extract DNA directly from the samples

-- Sophisticated genetic techniques are used to preserve long strings of DNA containing 50 or more genes

-- The DNA samples, many from unknown species, are cloned to produce proteins from the unknown microbes

-- These proteins are then screened to see whether they are potentially useful as drugs or industrial chemicals

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