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Access to the article is free, however registration and sign-in are required. Coupling the identity of microbes with their activity in the environment remains an important gap in our ability to explore microbial ecology. The development of techniques to quantify the metabolic activity of single microbial cells has been especially challenging, mostly due to their small size. Microbiologists are therefore excited about a new high-resolution imaging method called multi-isotope imaging mass spectrometry (MIMS) or nanoSIMS, which can help decipher what individual microbes are "doing" in the environment. In Kuyper's Perspective,he discusses how Lechene and colleagues apply MIMS to identify a symbiotic relationship between a nitrogen-fixing bacterium and an animal host. The technique is poised to reveal the metabolic diversity of the planet's microorganisms, 99% of which has eluded cultivation.
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