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Scientists succeed at first-ever attempt to sequence DNA at sea

Pioneering technologies allow real-time sequencing of organisms from hydrothermal vents in Pacific Ocean

Scientists funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and affiliated from the University of Delaware and Amersham Biosciences, Inc., in Piscataway, New Jersey, have succeeded in conducting the first-ever DNA sequencing experiments at sea.

Using the research vessel Atlantis and submersible Alvin, the team carried out a pioneering environmental genomic study of the strange life that inhabits super-hot hydrothermal vents almost two miles deep in the Pacific Ocean.

This research is important for its contributions to the new field of marine genomics and to our basic ecological understanding of unusual deep-sea vent communities, said Jim Yoder, director of NSFs ocean sciences division, which funded the research. The partnership with industry and its direct participation in the expedition could lead to new drugs and pharmaceuticals.

By the close of the 17-day research cruise, which ends today, the scientists estimate that they will have sequenced just under two million base pairs of DNA from different microbes and organisms that live in and around the vents. The amount of DNA sequenced during the trip will be equivalent to the size of a small bacterial genome, which typically ranges from two million to five million base pairs.

The microbes, tubeworms, and other vent dwellers are of critical interest to industry because these organisms may yield a range of new products and applications, from new pharmaceuticals to heat-stable, pressure-resistant enzymes for food processing, hazardous waste cleanup, and other fields.

Under the direction of University of Delaware marine biologist Craig Cary, the team conducted daily dives aboard the submersible Alvin coupled with round-the-clock laboratory analysis on the R/V Atlantis.
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
1-Nov-2001


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