Harriet Jones of the School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia (who is also the Course Director for the Graduate Diploma and external mentor for WLT interns), published a report in the journal Oryx on ‘Advancing the case for microbial conservation’.

Co-written with Charles Cockell of the Open University, the report details why microorganisms should be protected and discusses the problems related to their conservation. This ground-breaking paper also proposes microbial communities that are of conservation priority.

Microorganisms include fungi, bacteria, viruses and protists (singled celled organisms) and are not often considered when thinking about species conservation. In fact many microbes have negative connotations, such as the viruses and bacteria that cause disease. However, microbes form the majority of all the biomass of life on earth, and they are essential to the world’s biochemical cycles such as the nitrogen, sulphur and carbon cycles. They also have important roles in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Harriet and Charles conclude that microorganisms are as important to conserve as plants or animals. Microorganisms highlighted for conservation priority were those which are involved in global scale biogeochemical cycles. For example some marine microbes which remove 40% of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are vital in climate regulation. Microbes in local cycles such as those in coral reefs, which may be affected by environmental changes were categorised as a conservation priority and microbes involved in medicine and industry were also listed for conservation.

The paper proposes that microbes should be incorporated into conservation efforts, that there should be more education on the importance of microbe conservation and that conservation groups should have a greater role in microbial conservation.

More information

Read the abstract of the paper on the Cambridge journals website and learn more about Harriet Jones on our staff pages.