NEWARK, DEL. AND PISCATAWAY, NJ, October 31, 2001 — Scientists from the University of Delaware’s Extreme 2001: A Deep-Sea Odyssey Project and Amersham Biosciences have succeeded in conducting the first-ever DNA sequencing experiments to be carried out while at sea. Using the research vessel Atlantis and submersible Alvin, the team is carrying out a pioneering environmental genomic study of the strange life that inhabits super-hot hydrothermal vents almost two miles deep in the Pacific Ocean.
By the end of the 17-day research cruise, the scientists estimate that they will sequence 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 is conducting daily dives aboard the submersible Alvin coupled with round-the-clock laboratory analysis on the R/V Atlantis. Two scientists from Amersham Biosciences’ Production Sequencing Group in Sunnyvale, California, are on board using the company’s MegaBACE 1000 DNA Analysis System and TempliPhi DNA Sequencing Template Amplification Kit. These technologies are playing a key role in realizing the ability to carry out the project in its natural environment, as soon as samples are collected by the sub and brought aboard ship.
In conjunction with the research efforts, there is a major educational outreach program currently underway. As part of a “virtual field trip,” more than 13,000 students at 180 schools are participating in Extreme 2001: A Deep-Sea Odyssey. The students represent 32 states, Australia, Canada, Guam, New Zealand and Puerto Rico. Through live phone call question-and-answer sessions to the ship and submersible, the educational program is bringing the excitement of real-time discovery right into the classroom. The students and the public can log onto the expedition Web site at www.ocean.udel.edu/extreme2001 to see photos, video clips, and daily updates from the scientists on the ship.
“We are excited to be carrying out this new phase of the Extreme deep sea research, which takes the work we’ve done in previous years to the next level,” said Dr. Cary. “The research we are doing this year will allow us to better understand the amazing ecosystem that exists in these vents and how these organisms, which thrive under some of the harshest conditions on Earth, interact with each other. Additionally, it is an even greater benefit that we can bring this research to students in their classroom and actively involve them in our research.”
The research expedition is taking place in the Pacific Ocean along the Mid-Ocean Ridge, which is 1,200 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. The team is studying the Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana), vent crabs, bacteria, and other life that inhabit deep-sea hydrothermal vents to find out how these organisms can thrive in an environment that can reach temperatures of 750° Fahrenheit. The cruise started on October 15 and ends November 1.
“This work was not possible even a year ago. It really is due to MegaBACE and the use of TempliPhi that we are able to accomplish this,” said Dr. Robert A. Feldman, Production Sequencing and Collaborations Manager, Amersham Biosciences. “The technology that we are successfully bringing to these deep-sea systems are creating the new field of marine genomics. These efforts will be seen as groundbreaking for future studies on environmental, ecological and evolutionary biology.”
The “Extreme 2001” expedition is sponsored by the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies and the Sea Grant College Program, with financial support from the National Science Foundation. For more information on “Extreme 2001,” log on to www.ocean.udel.edu/extreme2001.
Amersham Biosciences is a world leader in developing and providing integrated systems and solutions for disease research, drug development and manufacture. Their systems are used to uncover the function of genes and proteins, for the discovery and development of drugs and for the manufacture of biopharmaceuticals. The customers for Amersham Biosciences’ products and technology are pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and research and academic institutions, principally in North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.