On this Earth Day, become a “Guardian of Microbial Diversity”


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Today is Earth Day.  Every Earth Day I try to do something for, well, the Earth.  Yes, there are some aspects of Earth Day that are a bit fluffy and hippyesque (in good and bad ways) but I do think it is a really important concept.  Our planet is in need of more care in so many ways.  I remember my first major commitment to Earth Day.  It was in 1990.  The 20th Anniversary.  And I was an undergraduate at Harvard and a member of the Environmental Action Committee and other eco-enviro focused organizations.  And that year I helped plan a major event – we got trees donated from the Harvard Arnold Arboretum in Boston (I think we had to go pick them up) and then planted them throughout Harvard campus.  And there were some little ceremonies at some of the plantings (although I think I did some of them on my own without even guidance from facilities on where to do the planting).  It was a nice experience.  And it was also a bit painful for me since I had to skip a baseball game I was supposed to play in and the coach was not impressed with my committment.

Anyway – every year since then I have tried to do something on Earth Day that symbolizes helping our planet in some way.  I have done clean ups in yucky ponds and rivers.  I have done garbage duty at festivals.  I have done email campaigns to people in government.  And more.  So this year I have been thinking – what will I do.  And I realized there is something missing from almost all Earth Day activities in which I have been involved and also those I have seen locally and on the news.

What is missing is some of the key players in the Earth.  The microbes.  Microbes after all run the planet right?  They play key roles in every ecosystem and are the dominant forms of life in terms of biomass, evolutionary diversity, biochemical diversity, and more.  The surround us and shape us even as we shape them.  And of course, all those multicellular creatures depend on their own microbial ecosystems (their microbiomes) for many of their functions.   Sure – many microbiology departments and organizations try to do things on Earth Day to represent the little organisms.  But those don’t seem to be catching on.  Really – we need a MUCH bigger effort in this area.

So today, on Earth Day, I am launching a new project here about microbes and what we can do for them. The project is called “The Guardians of Microbial Diversity”.  As the first step in this project I have created a pledge / petition for people to sign on Change.org: Become a Guardian of Microbial Diversity.   No the petition is not perfect.  But I wanted to get something out on Earth Day.



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Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.