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Carlos Duarte (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia) is a marine ecologist renowned for his work on the impacts of human activity on ocean ecosystems. With an international team of researchers, he has just carried out the most comprehensive analysis to date of the genes of marine microbes. A titanic breakthrough in research, which will provide us with essential data for biotechnology and to better understand the effects of climate change.
Marine microbes: an invisible world with great powers
When we talk about marine microbes, it’s a generic term bringing together bacteria, viruses as well as fungi. Without them, no life on Earth. Indeed, they play a major role in ocean ecosystems. Essential for the nutrient cycle, they are also essential for producing the oxygen we breathe and for breaking down organic matter. This video (in English, but French subtitles are available) from CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) explains this reality perfectly.
In reality, these organizations microscopic organisms are at the base of the trophic chain and the marine food chain and contribute to the proper functioning of the oceans. These two terms, although often used interchangeably, have some nuances:
- Food chain: this is a linear sequence, defining who eats who in an ecosystem. Each member is eaten by the next.
- Food chain: it can be defined as a more complex network of food interactions between living beings. A food chain can include several interconnected food chains.
The study of these small organisms is very important. Thanks to them, we better understand marine biological processes and they allow us to discover new substances, such as enzymes for the food industry or antibiotics .
The Duarte database, a small revolution
This database contains approximately < strong>315 million gene clusters from marine microbes. These come from different oceans and seas, and even include genes from organisms residing in very deep and remote areas.
Luis Pedro Coelho is a computational biologist at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane (Australia) and believes that this “represents a considerable increase in the number of genes listed, as well as a significant expansion of the geographic coverage and depths explored“. Duarte, for his part, adds: “in our catalog we include genomic data from the deep sea and the ocean floor& #8220;.
The analysis of this colossal amount of data was carried out with a supercomputer. Thanks to this, teams of researchers were able to accurately predict the complete sequences of billions of different genes. Never has such a complete panorama of marine microbial biodiversity been admired with such precision.
Future applications and implications
Carlos Duarte explains that “genes and proteins derived from marine microbes have endless potential applications“. This advance will serve as a reference measurement in order to monitor the effects of human activity on the microbial diversity of the oceans. We will be able to see with more precision the impacts of the use of fossil fuels or even deep-sea mining.
It will allow also to accelerate the research of new antibiotics and enzymes for the agro-food industry. The impact of this study is immense. However, for Andreas Teske, a marine microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we can do even better. If we increased the resolutionof this database (precision and genetic details it contains), it would be even more useful for scientific research.
In any case, the work done by Duarte and his teams is herculean. Not only have they produced the most advanced mapping of the hidden ocean world, but it will also accelerate research in many areas. Biotechnology, medical research and environmental monitoring will benefit for years from this advance. The latter also underlines a primordial fact: oceanographic science is fundamental to understanding our world and developing solutions to the contemporary challenges of our society.
- Microscopic marine organisms are the pillars of the proper functioning of our ecosystems.
- Carlos Duarte and an international team of researchers have developed the largest genetic database of these organisms.
- The applications of this study are very broad: advances in biotechnology, in the medical sector and in environmental monitoring.
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