Researchers uncover a surprising range of functions out of a small plankton, the tiny plants, viruses and embryonic fish that whales prefer to eat and provide considerably of the planet’s oxygen.
Such a tiny thing with so much more to contribute to our planet, Plankton are the source of marine food chain and produce half the oxygen on Earth through photosynthesis.
Unexpectedly, scientists discovered a more complex organism based on the five studies in the journal Science describing the findings of a multi-year journey called the Tara Oceans project.
Tara, an international scientist cruising aboard the French schooner started her expeditions from 2009 to 2013. She gathered 35,000 samples of plankton which consisted of viruses, bacteria, single-cell algae and fish larvae. They were collected from all major regions of the oceans.
“This is the largest DNA sequencing effort ever done for ocean science: analyses revealed around 40 million genes, the vast majority of which are new to science, thus hinting towards a much broader biodiversity of plankton than previously known,” stated researcher Patrick Wincker, from the French National Sequencing Center, Genoscope.
The report regarding the discovery is accessible to interested scientists in a newly introduced Ocean Microbial Reference Gene Catalogue.
Researchers were also able to gather data about the depth, temperature and salinity of the ocean , including the interactions of small living things from the deep water .
“When we mapped how planktonic organisms — from viruses to small animal larvae — interact with each other, we discovered that most of those interactions are parasitic, recycling nutrients back down the food chain,” stated Jeroen Raes from the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology and Free University of Brussels.
In regards to viruses, the researchers were able to determine more than 5,000 viral populations in the entire part of the world’s oceans.
“Surprisingly despite several decades of prior marine viral research, only 39 of these 5,000 viral populations were similar to previously known viruses,” claimed researcher Jennifer Brum from the University of Arizona.
The newly gathered data “has generated a treasure trove of data available to anyone willing to dive in,” stated an accompanying Perspective article in the journal Science, by E. Virginia Armbrust at the University of Washington, Seattle and Stephen R. Palumbi of Stanford University.
“Together, these studies deliver compelling evidence for extensive networks of previously hidden biological interactions in the sea.”