A team of biologists led by J. Craig Venter, one of the scientists who first sequenced the human genome, is now sailing around the world. The goal of the Global Ocean Sampling expedition is to sample and sequence the DNA of a vast diversity of ocean microbes.
So far, the team has completed sequencing for samples taken from North and Central American waters. One finding is that marine microbes in different environments have distinct genetic signatures. A gene that controls microbes' sensitivity to light seems adapted to the color of available light in different environments. Microbes living in greener waters, such as those near the North Atlantic coast, are sensitive to green light. The green plant pigment chlorophyll is abundant here as phytoplankton and algae. Microbes in bluer waters, such as the azure depths near Panama, are sensitive to blue light.
These adaptations likely help the microbes survive in their environments. This ambitious research shows how modern genetic techniques can clarify the adaptations and evolution of organisms. It will turn up vast stores of genetic information on our still-mysterious oceans.