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Discovering the ocean's microbiome: A new Tara expedition

On 12 December 2020, the schooner Tara set sail from Lorient, France, for a new two-year scientific expedition. The voyage will cover 70,000 kilometers in the South Atlantic, along the African and South-American coasts and on to Antarctica. The expedition's objective is to explore the oceanic microbiome and determine its future in the current era of climate change. Conceived by the Tara Ocean Foundation, the CNRS, the CEA and the EMBL¹, the mission will involve close to 200 scientists across 42 research structures—including Genoscope (CEA-Jacob)—via the Tara-GOSEE research federation and the AtlantECO program funded by the European Union.

Published on 13 December 2020

The oceanic microbiome describes the totality of marine microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, microalgae, protists, etc.) and their interactions within that environment. Representing more than two-thirds of the ocean's biomass, these microorganisms are essential ecological actors, particularly because of their planet-wide role in CO² capture and oxygen production. Nonetheless, and despite its importance, surprisingly little is known about this invisible marine ecosystem. 

Thus the objective of this new Tara mission is to shed light on how the oceanic microbiome functions and determine the environmental factors, particularly those born of climate change and pollution, that impact its ecological effectiveness. The scientists aboard Tara will collect marine microbiome samples all along their 70,000 km voyage through the South Atlantic while also measuring such parameters as water temperature, oxygen content, nutrient content and plastic pollution rates. They will also study microbiome responses to a range of phenomena, for example ocean fertilization by rivers and icebergs, or increases in the mass of anoxic water, like off the coast of Chili.

Genoscope will be responsible for the treatment, sequencing and initial bioinformatics analyses of the tens of thousands of samples to be collected. The colossal amount of data thus generated will be freely accessible to the scientific community. The data will enable a more precise understanding of the primary mechanisms linking the microbiome to the climate and contribute to improving climate models via the integration of identified biological parameters.

Beyond its scientific objectives, The Tara Ocean Foundation will continue its public awareness mission by inviting school children and the general public aboard to help them better understand the oceans and their importance. 

At some port stops, the teams will disembark to train local scientists on the techniques and competencies used for oceanic study. The public can follow along on this human and scientific adventure with the Foundation's dedicated web application to discover the visited countries and understand the importance of the marine microbiome. In Metropolitan France and for francophone networks, two educational operations will be proposed to schools: "Dans le sillage de Tara" (in Tara's wake), with an opportunity for school children to exchange in real-time with the Tara crew, and "Echos d'escale" (echoes at the port) to present sustainable development issues across the globe.

1 – European Molecular Biology Laboratory

To learn more: Press kit "New Tara expedition dedicated to ocean microbes"

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