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Scientists find incredible genetic diversity among plankton


An incredible research project has found that there a about 40 million genes in plankton. Researchers conducted the study in a 100-foot research schooner ‘Tara,’ to sample the microscopic plankton at 210 sites in Earth’s major oceanic regions at a depth of 2,000 metres.F1.medium

These microscopic beings feeds whales and other fish as they drift on the upper layers of the ocean. Plankton produce oxygen as they act as carbon sinks by influencing the weather. These mysterious creatures are not defined by phylogenetic or taxonomic classification, but by their ecological niche. These type of organisms includes complex animals like algae, archaea and unicellular protists which live in the pelagioc zone (except the ocean floor and coast) of most bodies of water.

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“This the largest DNA sequencing effort ever done for ocean science,” said Patrick Winker from Genoscope, CEA.

The research revealed that the plankton had about 40 million genes, pointing to a much brader diversity than previously known. The comprehensive catalague was compiled by EMBL’s high-performance computing that is estimated to have been derived from 35,000 different species whose genomic content was unknown to humans till now.

Colombon de Vargas from CNRS stated that they sequenced a billion genetic barcodes in eukaryotes, and found that there is a greater variety of single-cell eukaryotes than previously thought. Apart from biotic interactions, the scientists also analyzed how environmental factors like temperature, pH and nutrients influenced the floating microscopic organisms in the ocean.

A plankton may swim vertically towards or away from the ocean surface called as ‘diel vertical migration,’ and rarely capable of independent movement. The location of the microorganism is determined by environmental factors like concentration and motion of the ocean. The research was mode possible by the multinational consortium Tara Oceans which traveled around the world.

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