Shedd Aquarium researches collecting massive data through tiny samples at Microbiome Lab

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In Shedd Aquarium's microbiome lab, researchers are studying the tiniest living things on the planet to answer the biggest questions about aquatic animal life. From the changing diets of Bahamian rock iguanas to the bleaching of coral reefs, many of the most pressing conservation topics can best be studied through microbial ecology and molecular biology.

"A microbiome - literally, if you break down that word - means tiny living community," said Dr. Bill Van Bonn, Shedd's vice president of animal health. "This lab is where we investigate all those unseen living organisms that share space with the animals and with us."

The microbiome lab at Shedd is likely the only one of its kind, due to its specific focus on human-built aquatic environments. That narrow focus has broad implications for scientists studying animals in the wild.

"One of the most interesting things about this lab," said lab manager Frank Oliaro, "is that the techniques are so applicable to so many different questions."

'The Microbiome Lab' is episode six of of 'An Ocean On The Lake,' the multi-part behind-the-scenes series from ABC 7 Chicago and Shedd Aquarium. This segment highlights the scientific work of researchers who focus on the microscopic organisms that impact life in aquatic environments. Find every episode on our homepage for "An Ocean On The Lake," or watch on our ABC 7 Chicago connected TV App.
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