Many microbes cannot be cultivated in a laboratory setting, hindering attempts to understand Earth's microbial diversity. Since microbes are heavily involved in, and critically important to environmental processes from nutrient recycling, to carbon processing, to the fertility of topsoils, to the health and growth of plants and forests, accurately characterizing them, as a basis for understanding their activities, is a major goal of the Department of Energy (DOE). One approach has been to study collected DNA extracted from the complex microbial community, or the metagenome, in order to describe its DNA-coded "parts" catalog and understand how microbes respond and adapt to environmental changes. Studying a population rather than an individual raises different obstacles on the path to knowledge. The challenges of assembling genes and genomic fragments into meaningful sequence information for an unknown microbe has been likened to putting together a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the final picture should look like, or even if you have all the pieces.