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There is much interest in using high-throughput DNA sequencing methodology to monitor microorganisms, complex plant and animal communities. However, there are experimental and analytical issues to consider before applying a sequencing technology, which was originally developed for genome projects, to ecological projects. Many of these issues have been highlighted by recent microbial studies. Understanding how high-throughput sequencing is best implemented is important for the interpretation of recent results and the success of future applications. Addressing complex biological questions with metagenomics requires the interaction of researchers who bring different skill sets to problem solving. Educators can help by nurturing a collaborative interdisciplinary approach to genome science, which is essential for effective problem solving. Educators are in a position to help students, teachers, the public and policy makers interpret the new knowledge that metagenomics brings. To do this, they need to understand, not only the excitement of the science but also the pitfalls and shortcomings of methodology and research designs. We review these issues and some of the research directions that are helping to move the field forward.