Ecological research focuses on understanding how population-level dynamics—such as the growth rate of a particular population of microbes—contribute to ecosystem-level processes. Ecosystem scientists researching climate change often study the role of microbes in the carbon cycle, for example, so knowing how quickly they grow is a fundamental metric to reaching that understanding.
Until now, however, scientists have not had the ability to measure growth rates of individual microbial populations other than by studying them in pure cultures within a petri dish. Unlike larger organisms such as birds, fish or mammals that can be tagged and monitored over time, individual microbial species are difficult to study effectively in their natural environment. Read more.