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Sequencing project aims to uncover new knowledge about ocean microeukaryotes

November 9, 2010
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The National Center for Genome Resources (NCGR) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s (GBMF) Marine Microbiology Initiative (MMI) today announced a new research program to sequence the transcriptomes of approximately 750 marine microbial eukaryotes. Whereas previous community resource sequencing efforts supported by MMI have focused on marine bacteria and viruses, this project targets an extraordinarily diverse group of eukaryotic microorganisms that have more complex cellular and genomic structures. Like their bacterial and archaeal relatives, marine eukaryotic microbes are single-celled organisms, but, at the cellular level, they share some features of plants and animals; in particular, they have a nucleus containing their genetic material, which is packaged into chromosomes. These organisms span a range of lifestyles, from diatoms, one of many single-celled “plants” at the base of the oceanic food web that fix a large quantity of atmospheric carbon dioxide, to dinoflagellates, a group having features of both animals and plants and that may feed on other microbes in seawater.

Despite the high abundance of microbial eukaryotes in the ocean, their importance as absorbers of carbon dioxide, and their critical contribution to the marine food web, marine microbial eukaryotes have not been studied as intensively at the genomic level as bacteria and viruses. One reason is because their genomes are structurally complex and can be immense—some are far larger than the human genome. This program is intended to increase the research community’s baseline of scientific knowledge by creating catalogues of genes that specify how these interesting organisms thrive in diverse marine habitats and how they influence the atmosphere and marine ecosystems. These catalogues are also expected to improve metagenomic analyses of complex marine microbial eukaryotic communities.

Nominations for transcriptome sequencing will be solicited from the international scientific community in November 2010, and over the next eighteen months NCGR will sequence the transcripts of approximately 750 samples that are expected to represent hundreds of diverse species and strains. MMI has convened an advisory committee to assist with review of sample nominations. Sequence data and associated environmental and experimental metadata will be deposited in the Community Cyberinfrastructure for Advanced Microbial Ecology Research and Analysis and the Sequence Read Archive at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which will be the long-term homes of the sequences, assemblies and annotations.

Jon Kaye, program officer for the Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative, explained, “This project has the potential to result in significant new discoveries by greatly increasing the available gene content information for marine microbial eukaryotes.”

“We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the research community and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation on this important project which builds upon the successes of the Marine Microbiology Initiative,” said Gregory May, president at NCGR.

Callum Bell, Principal Investigator at NCGR commented, “The sheer amount of new knowledge waiting to be discovered in the genomes of these organisms is staggering, and we are delighted to be a part of this effort.”

“This project is poised to ‘break a barrier’ in the field of marine microbial eukaryote ecology and evolution while simultaneously generating vast amounts of new knowledge,” said Vicki Chandler, chief program officer for Science at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

For questions, please visit http://marinemicroeukaryotes.org or contact Dr. Callum Bell at NCGR (+1 505-995-4428) or Dr. Jon Kaye at GBMF (+1 650-213-3122).

About the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, established in 2000, seeks to advance environmental conservation and scientific research around the world and improve the quality of life in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Foundation’s Science Program aims to make a significant impact on the development of provocative, transformative scientific research, and increase knowledge in emerging fields. Within the Science Program, the Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative supports discovery and dissemination of scientific findings and technological developments in the fields of marine microbiology and microbial ecology, which contribute to ocean health and productivity. For more on the Marine Microbiology Initiative, please visit http://www.moore.org/marine-micro.aspx.

About NCGR

The National Center for Genome Resources is a nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving human, plant and animal health and nutrition through translational research. Genome sequencing and data analysis is facilitated by our state-of-the-art genome center.  For additional information on NCGR, please visit www.ncgr.org.

Related Link: http://marinemicroeukaryotes.org/home/press_release