Engineering

Microflora Danica: Mapping Denmark's microorganisms

MICROFLORA DANICA: MAPPING DENMARK’S MICROORGANISMS

AAU researchers will be using advanced DNA sequencing to map all the microorganisms in Denmark. The goal is to create “Microflora Danica” – a groundbreaking global encyclopedia that can benefit scientists, doctors and companies around the world.

Everyone knows that there are bacteria everywhere, but no one actually knows how many different microorganisms exist. Depending on who you listen to, the figure can vary from 10 million to 1 billion different species, and the challenge so far has been that it has not been possible to identify individual organisms precisely, as this requires the mapping of 1,600 letters in a DNA sequence.

In 2018, a research group led by Professor Mads Albertsen from the Department of Chemistry and Bioscience published a new DNA sequencing method that addresses this particular challenge by – in popular terms – making it possible to take bacteria’s fingerprints. This paved the way for the ambitious project in collaboration with AAU Professor Per Halkjær Nielsen, who is among the world’s leading bacterial researchers. The project, called Microflora Danica, spans four years and is being funded by a grant of DKK 30 million from the Poul Due Jensen Foundation.

- “We will collect more than 10,000 samples from different areas and habitats in Denmark and identify the species of microorganisms found in each area. Our goal is to build a complete “tree of life” for microorganisms, where we can fill all the major branches with both known and novel species of bacteria, and show how the different types of organisms descend from and interact with each other”, says Mads Albertsen.

Worldwide database

The project will run for four years, and although the focus is on Danish microorganisms, scientists hope to eventually have a comprehensive, open database that can be used anywhere in the world.

- “We don’t just want to create a long list of microorganisms, but a digital encyclopedia where we and other researchers can continually add more information such as the organisms’ functions, characteristics or interaction. You will be able to go in there and look up, for example, the function of a specific bacteria in a cultivated field, or a combination of bacteria that provides the best treatment of waste water”, Per Halkjær Nielsen from AAU explains.

This is exactly why the researchers have named the project “Microflora Danica”, with reference to one of the largest ever Danish research projects, where all Danish plants were categorised in a comprehensive manual that is still available today.
 

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Contact person

Mads Albertsen
Professor MSO
Phone: (0045) 2293 2191
E-mail: ma@bio.aau.dk

Contact person

Per Halkjær Nielsen
Professor
Phone: (0045) 9940 8503
E-mail: phn@bio.aau.dk