"From the very beginning, when we were deciding how we could do a survey of marine microbes, it has been a community effort," says Sogin. "Sample collection is a very expensive game, mostly in terms of running ships, but the submitting labs paid for that, which relieved one financial hurdle for the census." Meanwhile, at the MBL, "we realized right away that we needed bioinformatics capabilities that didn't exist" to handle the data, Sogin says. So they designed databases that allow visualization of microbial diversity in several graphical ways and that combine genetic data with information on the microbes' habitats.
Early on, ICoMM scientists also made the crucial decision to collect not just genetic data on the microbes (which would separate them by type), but also contextual information on where they were foundlatitude and longitude, ocean depth, water pH, salinity, and other conditions. What they found is that all microbes are not everywhere. Despite an ability to disperse widely in the oceans, the scientists discovered that characteristic microbial communities can define different water masses in the ocean and can tell us about the health of different ecosystems.
"Believe it or not, this is unique, this coupling of (genetic) diversity data and contextual data," says Linda Amaral Zettler, MBL assistant scientist and ICoMM program manager. "The big payoff is it lets the researchers ask ecological questions about microbial populations that otherwise could not be posed."
Now is the most exciting time, when "things start to unfold, and stories are being told," says Amaral Zettler. "We
|Contact: Gina Hebert|
Marine Biological Laboratory