There is just as much diversity (if not more) in our planet’s oceans as there is in the Earth’s rainforests. Serving a multitude of purposes, plankton refers to the microscopic beings drifting in our oceans.
Plankton produces oxygen, influences the weather, absorbs carbon dioxide, act as waste disposal plants and make up the base of the food web sustaining the majority of marine mammals and fish.
A team of researchers decided to investigate the mysteries of plankton and, for three and a half years, sailed the seas on their boat Tara. The scientists gathered samples and investigated the genetic make-up of over 35,000 plankton species, most of which were unknown to mankind.
The team’s data showed that these previously underestimated organisms serve a much higher purpose than anticipated. Scientists travelling together as part of the Tara Oceans Project set sail in 2009 and collected samples of bacteria, single-cell algae, viruses and fish larvae from each major ocean region.
Thanks to the international research team’s efforts, a total of 35,000 species of bacteria, 150,000 single celled plants and 5,000 new creatures were found, most of which are believed to be unknown to mankind.
The team’s efforts have therefore produced, as Dr. Chris Bowler explains, the most comprehensive description of planktonic organisms. Genetic sequencing and rigorous procedures have allowed the scientists t compile a catalogue of viruses, bacteria and protozoa present in the Earth’s waters.
Not underestimating the scientific advancements that the Tara Expedition involved, Eric Karsenti, Tara Oceans Program director said:
“This adventure is also about showing people all over the world how important the ocean is for our own well-being.”
During their 3 and a half year-long expedition, scientists took part in the planet’s largest ocean-science-related DNA sequencing endeavor. In total, the team analyzed approximately 40 million genes.
Since the majority of their discoveries are new to science, the research team managed to highlight the broader biodiversity of plankton.
Colomban de Vargas explains that the team had to study and sequence approximately half-a-billion genetic barcodes for eukaryotes alone. Scientists observed that single-cell eukaryotes presented a greater variety than previously thought.
“They appear to be much more diverse than bacteria or animals, and most belong to little-known groups.”
But this unique world is already suffering because of climate change and temperature increases. The composition of plankton communities is influenced by temperature changes. According to Chris Bowler, the ever-increasing ocean temperatures will strongly impact the way that plankton functions and performs.
These changes will, in turn, have repercussions on our planet as a whole.
The research team found that prokaryote community composition was significantly altered with temperature changes. These organisms come together differently when sudden shifts in temperature occur.
Marine virus communities were also under the microscope, as the Tara Oceans Project scientists attempted to paint the global picture of marine virus migration patterns. It seems that these viruses emerge in local “seed banks” and are then transported by ocean currents towards different locations.
In total, more than 200 people were involved in the Tara Oceans Project. Experts from over 35 countries contributed their expertise to this noteworthy effort. Later in 2015, the same boat will commence another expedition up the Seine in order to highlight the importance of climate-change awareness before negotiations in Paris commence.
Image Source: wordlesstech
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