The number of known microbial species is estimated to be over 110,000, but only a fraction of these species is identified and even fewer are being studied or are in culture collections (Hawksworth, 1991b). By one estimate, only 3 to 10% of Earth's microbial species have been identified, leaving a vast portion of that biota unknown and therefore unstudied (Hawksworth, 1991a). According to other estimates, the number of microbial species may be as many as 1 million organisms (American Society for Microbiology, 1994). Even with conservative estimates, the microbial populations and their diversity require more investigation. Microbial communities are highly diverse and thought to exhibit even greater diversity than that seen in higher orders of organisms (Torsvik et al., 1990; Ward et al., 1992). Obviously, we are aware of only a miniscule portion of the total potential of the system. Within the soil microbial population, there is a wealth of genetic information waiting to be discovered.
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