Arctic & Antarctica
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Arctic - New dataset reveals biological 'treasure trove' in the Arctic Ocean

A major new project will help benchmark biodiversity change in the Arctic Ocean and guide conservation efforts by identifying unique species and assessing their extinction risk.

Developed by an international team of scientists under the joint leadership of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the U.K. and the Alfred-Wegener Institute Helmholtz Center for Polar- and Marine Research (AWI) in Germany, the EcoOmics dataset will also support bioprospecting to tackle the shortage of antibiotics and antiviral medication, as well as reveal evidence of novel biology that might influence our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth.

The team—which includes researchers from the German Helmholtz Association, the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Joint Genome Institute (JGI, U.S.) and Earlham Institute (U.K.), as well as several other institutions—discuss the initiative and preliminary findings in the journal PLOS Biology, published today.

EcoOmics—the first large "omics," or genome sequence dataset for any polar ecosystem—reveals a year in the biological life of the central Arctic Ocean with emphasis on microbiomes, communities of micro-organisms living together in a habitat.

Arctic ecosystems are among the most impacted by global warming and the Arctic Ocean serves as an indicator for the consequences of climate change, as well as the persistence of biodiversity on our planet.

Yet, due to logistical and accessibility challenges, the Arctic—especially the central Arctic Ocean—remains one of the most poorly understood environments.

The work by the EcoOmics team aims to address this, providing an "open access" genomic resource for the scientific community. It uses data from samples gathered during the ground-breaking Multi-Disciplinary drifting Observatory for the study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) program, which took place from September 2019 to October 2020.

The largest polar expedition in history, it saw research ship the RV Polarstern frozen into the Arctic sea ice and drift across the top of the Arctic Ocean. Hundreds of scientists conducted a range of co-ordinated marine, atmospheric, sea-ice related and other research dedicated to improving our understanding of the role of the Arctic Ocean in climate processes.

Prof Thomas Mock, of UEA's School of Environmental Sciences, co-leads the EcoOmics project with Dr. Katja Metfies from the AWI.

"This is the first and largest effort to sequence the central Arctic Ocean through space and time," said Prof Mock. "It provides the first evidence of novel biology as the work was done in an area that has never been studied ever before using multiomics technology, that is, sequencing of genes, genomes and transcriptomes from natural microbial communities from the surface to the deep central Arctic Ocean."

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