Issue Date: March 19, 2007
Some 7.7 million DNA sequences containing 6.3 billion base pairs-along with 6.1 million proteins, including thousands of protein kinases and other enzymes-make up the treasure trove of data extracted from ocean-dwelling bacteria and viruses during the two-year Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition. Research papers and associated articles reporting these findings were published on March 13 in the online journal PLoS Biology (collections.plos.org/plosbiology/gos-2007.php).
This vast amount of sequence data, gathered and processed by researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute, in Rockville, Md., is expected to lead to better understanding of key biological processes. For example, information on families of proteins gleaned from the data could help clarify the ocean's role in global climate and eventually lead to new antibiotics and other medicines, technologies for alternative energy production, and methods for industrial processing.
The new data, which are being freely shared via public databases on the Web, is just the beginning. Additional surveys are planned for sampling at different locations and ocean depths.
"Given the findings, it's clear that we've only begun to scratch the surface of understanding the microbial world around us," says expedition leader J. Craig Venter, the institute's founder and chairman.
Access to the information on genetic diversity is "wonderful and extremely valuable," comments Per Falholt, chief scientific officer at Novozymes, a global leader in developing enzymes for industrial applications. "But it's just the start of another mountain we need to climb." The volume of data presents a huge task for bioinformatics experts to sort through and make links between protein functions and potential applications, he says.
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