Skip to Content

Microbial Prospectors

February 28, 2003

A gram of soil can harbor more than 10,000 species of microscopic organisms. Subtle differences in the local environment-say, gases seeping from a petroleum deposit far below-can affect which microbes wind up in a plot of dirt. Mill Valley, CA-based startup Taxon hopes to take advantage of these phenomena to go prospecting for oil and other valuable resources.

Taxon uses DNA sequencing and other techniques to generate for each soil sample a genetic profile-an indication of which species are present and in what proportions. The idea, says chief science officer Matt Ashby, is to analyze soil near known deposits of oil, gold, platinum and other valuable materials to find signature microbial profiles. Then, says Ashby, these signatures could provide the basis for quick handheld testing devices that prospectors could use in the field. Taxon, which was launched last September, is working with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop its first profiles, on soil from an oil field in Wyoming.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

How scientists traced a mysterious covid case back to six toilets

When wastewater surveillance turns into a hunt for a single infected individual, the ethics get tricky.

It’s time to retire the term “user”

The proliferation of AI means we need a new word.

The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers.

Plug-in hybrids are often sold as a transition to EVs, but new data from Europe shows we’re still underestimating the emissions they produce.

Sam Altman says helpful agents are poised to become AI’s killer function

Open AI’s CEO says we won’t need new hardware or lots more training data to get there.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.