Although bacteria are invisible to the human eye strains of bacteria are everywhere. Kateryna Pantiukh, a doctoral student at the University of Tartu, has sequenced tens of thousands of bacterial genomes and found 330 entirely new bacterial species.
Pantiukh participated in the preliminary round of the international Coimbra Group Three Minute Lectures at the University of Tartu, her speech follows below.
So bacteria are everywhere. You can look at your hand and think it's empty, but millions of tiny microorganisms are living there. They live their lives, they fight, they share the food and they produce a new generation.
I'm curious about this tiny organism because it affects my health a lot. Are there smarter ways to explore these tiny microorganisms than just to grow them in an artificial environment in the lab?
Yes, there are. Each bacteria has a genome. Genome is like a book with instructions for all situations in life. These books have been written in a language we still do not completely understand, but we can read a part of this text.
I have the privilege to work with the Estonian Biobank sample. Every day, I take a small part of the genome from the sample and start looking at it from different angles. I evaluate each property of this genome part.
For example, how often is every letter present in this sample? Can I have an overlapping fragment of text in this sample? How many of the same fragments are in the samples I have? Do I have the same patterns in this particular sample that I have already seen in a different one?
This process has a difficult name, metagenome assembly, but in the end, you can have a complete bacterial genome. We can tell you the complete story of the life of this particular bacteria.
I spent one year and a hundred gigabytes of memory on our supercomputer to make this puzzle.
I now have 84,527 bacterial genomes, and I haven't told you the best part yet. After this puzzle, I can explore the completely new bacteria—completely unseen for any other bacteria.
I have 330 bacteria. And not only the bacteria; I also found the small microorganisms that were supposed to live in extreme environments, like volcanoes, but I have found them inside the human body.
You have to admit, it's like magic.
You literally see the world unseen to any other people. Thank you for following me today. This is my story.
Editor: Kristina Kersa