Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Sustainable Energy

Microbial Prospectors

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.

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Print Subscription.
  • Print Subscription {! insider.prices.print_only !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six print issues per year plus The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Print magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    The Download: newsletter delivered daily

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.