Sailing the Seas in Search of Microbes | The Scientist

Sailing the Seas in Search of Microbes | The Scientist

This article on big missions to sample and catalog the microbes in the ocean includes comments from the MBL’s Mitchell Sogin, who organized one of the earliest such expeditions, the International Census of Marine Microbes, in the 2000s.

By Shawna Williams

Stéphane Pesant was on deck finishing up processing samples and preparing gear after a long day when he heard it: the exhalation of a sperm whale. It was a calm night back in 2011 in the waters off Peru, remembers Pesant, a marine biologist, and he was one of just two people still on deck when the giant animal surfaced. “We couldn’t see it at all, it was pitch-dark,” he says. “But we could hear it, and it would dive and come back up.”

Speaking from his office on land in the UK, where he works for the European Bioinformatics Institute, Pesant tells The Scientist that he’s had many such moments of wonder aboard Tara, a 36-meter research sailboat now on its latest in a series of multi-year expeditions to learn more about the world’s oceans. Managed by the Paris-based nonprofit Tara Ocean Foundation with help from multiple scientific partners and corporate sponsors, the craft collects data that are made freely available to researchers.

Samples collected aboard Tara over the past decade-plus have helped researchers identify hundreds of thousands of new viruses and catalog tens of millions of microbial genes. Read more…

Illustration: Andrzej Krauze, The Scientist

Source: Sailing the Seas in Search of Microbes | The Scientist