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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tara Ocean likely to doc in Mumbai on March 24, 2010

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The first ever round the globe expedition named “Tara Ocean” is scheduled to doc at Mumbai on March 24, 2010. The expedition is a three –year voyage planned and designed to study marine life in the context of climate change. “Having set sail from Lorient, France, last September and navigated through the Red Sea, the expedition comprises a team of oceanographers, ecologists, biologists, geneticists, and physicists from universities and institutes around the world – reports The Hindu in its February 20, 2010issue.
As per the report, the expedition aims to answer some of the fundamental questions about the ocean. The coordinator of the expedition Mr. Chris Bowler is reported to state that marine ecosystem is facing challenges caused by climate change and pollution. As such a transformation of oceanic lives can be predicted. The expedition also aims to discover new species of marine plants and animals. Dr. Chris Bowler is a Centre National de la Researche Scientifiq at the Ecole Noamale Superieure in Paris.

The microscopic life of our seas and oceans represents a vital part of the “climate engine” producing half the oxygen in the atmosphere and absorbing vast quantities of carbon dioxide. Our seas and oceans are getting more and more acidic due to increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the lower most layer of the atmosphere. This condition is endangering marine lives mostly the mollusks.

Image: 1- Tara Ocean Expedition, the scientists at work

Image:2- The Tara Ocean Voyage

It is reported that the expedition has to complete a voyage of 150,000 km and is expected to assess coral adaptabilities to hotter and more acidic sea water. It is also aimed to study diatoms that play major roles in sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, hunt giant viruses and photosynthetic planktons can be proved useful to medicine ; and sequence DNA of unicellular protists that make up a fifth compartment of life on earth but about which very little is known- writes The Hindu in its current issue.

It is reported that the ship at the voyage has been transformed “to accommodate a Marine Biology Imaging Platform to study planktons and other marine organisms. A miniature microscopy room there contains an incubator to keep the samples alive and a vertical fish tank for the macro photography operations.

Some of the prestigious laboratories from around the world participating in the Tara Ocean are – Marine Biology Laboratory of U.S., Flinders University of Australia, Centre Scientifiq de Monaco of France, The University of Milan of Italy, and the University of Warwick of U.K., and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory of Germany. It is planned that Tara Ocean will also study on priority basis the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where trash of the world accumulate to form a toxic mass of the size of North America. This is a mass of plastic waste and debris and it is estimated by scientists to be anywhere from twice the size of Texas to twice the size of Continental USA.This patch was discovered by Captain Charles Moore in 1997. The Captain warns of the mounting implications of our floating pollution by explaining like this -:  “In the central North Pacific Gyre, pieces of plastic outweigh surface zooplankton by a factor of six to one. Ninety percent of Laysan albatross chick carcasses and regurgitated stomach contents contain plastics.  Fish and seabirds mistake plastic for food.  Plastic debris releases chemical additives and plasticizers into the ocean.  Plastic also adsorbs hydrophobic pollutants like PCBs and pesticides like DDT.  These pollutants bioaccumulate in the tissues of marine organisms, biomagnify up the food chain, and find their way into the foods we eat.”

Image: 1


Image:1 and Image:2 - The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, location on map and the form of the garbage patch

Here is the summary of the project taken humbly from the site of the expedition- The Tara Oceans three year expedition is collecting information about oceanic plankton biodiversity around the world in an attempt to understand biodiversity in a functional ontext.(wwwÖtaraexpeditions.org).During the expedition, a cytometer is continuously monitoring phytoplankton concentrations in surface waters. In addition, water samples are being collected that are enriched in phytoplankton of different sizes, both from surface waters and from the deep chlorophyll max (DCM). These samples are being used for microscopy observations, both onboard using live samples and on land using fixed samples, in order to characterize diatom populations at the genus and species level. To facilitate species identification Tara Oceans is using the fluorescent dye FITC-silane, which specifically labels the silicified cell walls of diatoms. Cells from water samples are also being collected on filters, stored in RNA later, and DNA and RNA are being extracted by Genoscope, France. DNA and rRNA are being sequenced in order to quantify species abundance at the molecular level, and mRNA is being sequenced to reveal gene expression profiles in different oceanic contexts. The Tara Oceans expedition is therefore generating a huge worldwide data set of phytoplankton abundance during its 3 year expedition that contains environmental metatransciptomics data linked to information about community composition and correlated physico-chemical data about the prevailing hydrological context at each sampling station. The PhD project will be based on extracting information about diatom functions in different oceanic environments from the Tara Oceans dataset. This project is of importance because diatoms are one of the most important components of marine phytoplankton and are the main players in the biological carbon pump.

Planned research activity: The student will make use of the Tara Oceans dataset to extract information specifically related to diatom function. His/her tasks will be to associate information about diatom abundance and biodiversity with the expression of genes that can be ascribed to diatoms. Diatom gene calling will be feasible due to the availability of six genome sequences from diatoms. Furthermore, by reference to these whole genome sequences it will be possible in some cases to associate individual genes with pennate or centric diatoms, a process that will be further facilitated by the microscopic data generated by the Tara Oceans project. Once a diatom gene set has been defined, the student will explore the metabolic activities associated with their gene products, based on bioinformatics tools such as InterPro, KOG and KEGG, and will relate predicted metabolic pathway activities to the associated physico-chemical data at each sampling station. Innovative aspects and relevance: It is expected that diatom community activities will be defined in different oceanic environments, thus providing an ecological context to understand diatom community metabolism. Combination of these results with information about other phytoplankton groups, as well as Prochlorococcus and other bacteria, may provide sufficient information to develop models of diatom functional biodiversity. Key outcomes will be a global evaluation of diatom communities and diatom gene expression profiles in a range of different oceanic contexts. The results will provide a basis for understanding how diatoms will be affected by climate change-induced phenomena in the future.

Key Words: Tara Ocean,Chris Bowler,sequestering, protists,Marine Biology Imaging Platform,Captain Charles Moore,Great Pacific Garbage Patch 

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