Sarah Alston

Sarah is a 4th year biology student at the University of New Brunswick that has been with the R&D team at LuminUltra this term on co-op. She intends to continue her studies after graduation to pursue her passion for sustainable agriculture, nutrition and health policy. When she’s not studying, she spends her time outdoors hiking and camping, backpacking everywhere and anywhere, and is almost always planning her next adventure.

Microbes Run the World

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Microbes run the world. They are the governing agents behind the conversion of key elements into vital biological forms. They remove toxins from their environments, and protect us from disease-causing organisms. Microbes do not, however, go to battle alone. Microbe armies live in complex communities that follow intricate processes and interactions to ensure environmental stability. Until recently, microbes have been studied by means of growing them individually in unnatural laboratory environments without ecological context. Not only is it estimated that >99% of microbes are unculturable using standard techniques, these techniques do not allow for the analysis of microbial interaction. Enter, metagenomics.

Metagenomics is the study of the organismal genes in a sample taken directly from its environment and is employed as a research tool to analyze the composition, diversity and functioning of entire microbial communities. Given that samples are extracted from communities of microbes rather than single species populations, metagenomics can be used to examine interactions inside these communities and how these interactions influence overall activity. Furthermore, metagenomics can offer information about the interactions between microbes that influence water quality issues such as algal blooms, contaminant biodegradation, and pathogen dissemination.

Contrary to Moore’s Law predictions, metagenomic sequencing power and complexity has doubled every five months. Over the past 10 years, the field of genomics has advanced at such a magnitude that the capacity of sequencers has increased 1,000-fold. On top of that, the cost of sequencing technologies has decreased 10,000-fold to the point where the entire human genome can be sequenced for $1,000. Taken together, it is evident that metagenomic testing is positioned to soon become a standard laboratory tool.

All things considered, LuminUltra saw great benefit in partnering with Microbe Detectives. Microbe Detectives uses metagenomics technology to sequence microbial DNA in water (and wastewater) samples to identify the relative abundance of microorganisms present in a sample. The partnership between LuminUltra and Microbe Detectives provide LuminUltra’s clients with the only commercially focused microbe monitoring platform designed for water and wastewater sectors that has the capability to detect the full complement of microbes in a sample. LuminUltra’s ATP monitoring technology provides quick, on-the-spot results allowing operators to take immediate action to solve contamination problems as soon as they arise. If contamination is detected, Microbe Detectives can apply their sequencing technology to identify the microorganisms that are present, organize them based on their functional properties, and provide the relative proportions of specific microorganism types present.


Lindgreen, S., Adair, K. L., & Gardner, P. (2015). An evaluation of the accuracy and speed of metagenome analysis tools. Scientific reports, (6). doi:10.1101/017830

Tan, B., Ng, C., Nshimyimana, J. P., Loh, L. L., Gin, K. Y., & Thompson, J. R. (2015). Next-generation sequencing (NGS) for assessment of microbial water quality: current progress, challenges, and future opportunities. Frontiers in Microbiology, 6(1027). doi:10.3389/fmicb.2015.01027

Heather, J. M., & Chain, B. (2016). The sequence of sequencers: The history of sequencing DNA. Genomics, 107(1), 1-8. doi:10.1016/j.ygeno.2015.11.003

Goodwin, S., Mcpherson, J. D., & Mccombie, W. R. (2016). Coming of age: ten years of next-generation sequencing technologies. Nature Reviews Genetics, 17(6), 333-351. doi:10.1038/nrg.2016.49

Thomas, T., Gilbert, J., & Meyer, F. (2012). Metagenomics – a guide from sampling to data analysis. Microbial Informatics and Experimentation, 2, 3.


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