Ocean Xenobiotics & Biogenomics

The oceans and especially plankton blooms and pastures are by far the most bio-diverse ecologies on this blue planet.

The nature of the liquid culture of life that is the ocean is one of intense competition and even more intense cooperation amongst the tiniest bacteria, fungi, and viruses, to the larger blooming phytoplankton. Blooms have animal life that includes the smallest to the largest creatures ever to have lived on this world.

Survival here is not for the fittest it is more for the most cooperative life forms, those who have evolved to live in a manner where pathogens become allies, where competition is takes a distant second place to commensalism (living together).

In this liquid liquid culture, life is not so different from our own bodies where our collections of cells live largely within a liquid medium contained within our skins. We find in blooms myriad natural products that convey hale and hearty health, cures for what ails us, and of course disease. In our ocean blooms we find the richest bio-prospecting territory there is for discovery of natural products (xenobiotics) and unravelling of living genomics.

Being invisible to the naked eye, microbes managed to escape scientific scrutiny until the mid-17th century, when Leeuwenhoek invented his microscope. These cryptic organisms continued to thwart scientists’ efforts to probe, describe, and classify them until about 50 years ago. They have an almost infinitely varies to a extremely limited morphology that defies traditional taxonomic methods. They have an enigmatic physiology that makes them notoriously difficult to cultivate. All this makes work within the living ocean a world of wonder and discovery.

Here’s what one of our favorite colleagues in the field, Craig Ventner, has to say about the

Untapped Bounty of Ocean Biodiversity – PLOS Collections

“Most of what we know about the biochemical diversity of microbes comes from the tiny fraction that submit to lab investigations. Not until scientists determined that they could use molecular sequences to identify species and determine their evolutionary heritage, or phylogeny, did it begin to become apparent just how diverse microbes are. We now know that microbes are the most widely distributed organisms on earth, having adapted to environments as diverse as boiling sulfur pits and the human gut. Accounting for half of the world’s biomass, microbes provide essential ecosystem services by cycling the mineral nutrients that support life on earth. And marine microbes remove so much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that some scientists see them as a potential solution to global warming.” read more of Craig’s wonderful work on the PLOS site…

Ventners work in the field is supported by the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars from a cross section of industry majors. He is not alone but his pioneering work roaming the seven seas on a small sailing vessel is remarkable. It’s not our present cup of tea, been there done that, though we do join him is the thrill of it all. We prefer the far richer and concentrated wealth of biodiversity we see growing through the full life cycle in the plankton blooms we replenish, restore, and study.

Plankton blooms are a lot like rainforests with respect to their rich biodiversity, only they are rainforest biodiversity to the power of 100 and thus are a good place to make discoveries. Unlike a rainforest that takes a 1000 years to replenish and regrow our plankton blooms require but a 1000 hours to change the world from barren desert to a garden of Eden.