After a decade of joint work and scientific adventure, marine explorers from more than 80 countries, including six scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), today delivered the first global Census of Marine Life revealing what, where, and how much lives and hides in the world's oceans.
In one of the largest scientific collaborations ever conducted, more than 2,700 scientists spent over 9,000 days at sea on more than 540 expeditions gathering the data.
As a result of these efforts the scientists discovered that there may be up to 1 billion kinds of marine microbes—more than 100 times more diverse than plants and animals—and as many as 38,000 kinds of microbes in a typical liter of sea water.
A team of researchers from the MBL's Bay Paul Center and their colleagues in 25 countries were among the scientists contributing to the Census through their leadership of the International Census of Marine Microbes (ICoMM), a research project of the larger Census of Marine Life, which focused on the biodiversity of microscopic life forms in the world's oceans.
Over the last six years, ICoMM has amassed more than 25 million genetic sequences from microbes that swim in 1,200 sites around the Earth—from polar bays to tropical seas; from estuaries to offshore; on corals, sponges, and whale carcasses; from surface waters to deep-sea smokers.
Most of the Earth's biodiversity is microbial in nature, particularly in the oceans. For more than three billion years, these creatures have mediated critical processes that shape the planet's habitability.
In 2006, ICoMM scientists made the startling discovery that while a few microbial species dominate the oceans, most of are very low in abundance. Mitchell Sogin, director of the MBL's Bay Paul Center and ICoMM project leader called this new and unexplored realm of microbial life the "rare biosphere."
Soon after this discovery, Sogin began utilizing a powerful type of DNA sequencer that enabled the analysis of microbial diversity in many more samples, much faster. His new method, called "Pyro-Tagging," attracted additional funding to expand the census. A call to scientists got an enthusiastic and high-quality response, and 40 new labs were chosen to send marine microbial samples to the MBL for sequencing.
"From the very beginning, when we were deciding how we could do a survey of marine microbes, it has been a community effort," says Sogin. "Sample collection is a very expensive game, mostly in terms of running ships, but the submitting labs paid for that, which relieved one financial hurdle for the census." Meanwhile, at the MBL, "we realized right away that we needed bioinformatics capabilities that didn't exist" to handle the data, Sogin says. So they designed databases that allow visualization of microbial diversity in several graphical ways and that combine genetic data with information on the microbes' habitats.
Early on, ICoMM scientists also made the crucial decision to collect not just genetic data on the microbes (which would separate them by type), but also contextual information on where they were found—latitude and longitude, ocean depth, water pH, salinity, and other conditions. What they found is that all microbes are not everywhere. Despite an ability to disperse widely in the oceans, the scientists discovered that characteristic microbial communities can define different water masses in the ocean and can tell us about the health of different ecosystems.
"Believe it or not, this is unique, this coupling of (genetic) diversity data and contextual data," says Linda Amaral Zettler, MBL assistant scientist and ICoMM program manager. "The big payoff is it lets the researchers ask ecological questions about microbial populations that otherwise could not be posed."
Now is the most exciting time, when "things start to unfold, and stories are being told," says Amaral Zettler. "We think our analyses will tell us very interesting stories."
The Census of Marine Life was initiated in 2000 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. During its decade the Census grew to a $650 million global exploration, involving over 670 institutions and more than 10 times the original 250 collaborators. The Census consisted of 17 projects that touch the major habitats and groups of species in the global ocean.
More than 300 leaders of the Census community met October 4 to 7 in London at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Royal Society, and Natural History Museum to share their decade of results and consider their implications.
A sequel to the Census will be explored during the London meetings and at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity next September in Aberdeen, Scotland.
The MBL is a leading international, independent, nonprofit institution dedicated to discovery and to improving the human condition through creative research and education in the biological, biomedical and environmental sciences. Founded in 1888 as the Marine Biological Laboratory, the MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the Americas. For more information, visit www.mbl.edu.
Gina Hebert | EurekAlert!
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy