More Progress on the Ocean Sampling Front

I met with Craig Venter and his team at Cave Street last Thursday to discuss their progress on the 2009-2010 Research Voyage of the Sorcerer II Expedition. The presentation was very thorough, and I am pleased with the progress that Craig and his team have made.

As some of you may recall, I helped to sponsor this global ocean sampling expedition, and I have a personal interest in the results. In addition to the Sorcerer II Expedition, we have also been conducting a local ocean sampling program using my boat Solutions.

Our local sampling happened to coincide with a very large red tide in spring 2010, and we were able to do extensive sampling of the bloom. As a result, the Venter team discovered some new phytoplankton not before found in the San Diego area, and an article was published in Nature. As it turns out, there happens to be a red tide occurring north of La Jolla point, and if I am able, I hope to do some sampling with the Venter team.

Our discussion focused mostly on the Sorcerer II Expedition in the Baltic, Black, and Mediterranean Seas. According to the presentation, 213 global ocean sites were sampled over the course of two summers, and each site resulted in the collection of an additional 2,500 data points on such items as temperature, salinity, oxygen, and pH.

Using this data, the team created a complete environmental profile for each sample, and then downselected to 63 sites that showed the most diversity in microorganisms. The results clearly show that the microbial life varies considerably from ocean to ocean, sea to sea, and sea to ocean. There are a number of factors that bring this about, including salinity and oxygen content of the water in the area, the amount of available light (particularly UV), temperature, and the availability of minerals such as iron, copper, nickel, and carbon flow.

Genomic DNA taken from samples at each of the 63 selected global ocean sampling sites was extracted at the J. Craig Venter Institute laboratories in Rockville, Maryland, and San Diego, where it was analyzed and stored away for future use. The voyage has resulted in the discovery of many new microorganism species and genes.

It is my hope that these discoveries may someday lead to innovations of great value to the human race, including new alternative fuels. I look forward to future updates on the team’s progress.

— Bob