Technology Biodiversity: towards a genetic atlas of marine animals

Biodiversity: towards a genetic atlas of marine animals

Scientists want to draw up an atlas of the genetic diversity of the French coast. To do this, they will have to collect 4,500 marine species living on the beaches and in the coastal zone.

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A school of pouts in the Atlantic Ocean.  (GUILLEN AMAR AND ISABELLE / MAXPPP)

A dozen or so scientists from Central commission of nuclear energy (CEA), of Central commission of nuclear energy (CNRS), of the Natural History Museum have already embarked at the beginning of March on a rather special shore fishing trip, in Roscoff in Finistère. Armed with buckets, shovels and test tubes, they launched the very first sampling expedition and began to carefully collect all kinds of algae, molluscs, crabs or tiny shrimps. They then froze them at minus 80°C in liquid nitrogen to preserve them, before sending them to the Evry genoscope in Essonne. This is where the DNA of these marine animals will be extracted and sequenced.

In total, this research work, with a budget of 41 million euros, should be spread over eight years. The collection of these 4,500 marine species will be done on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, and in the overseas territories. The genome, explains the director of this ATLAsea program for the CNRS, Hugues Roest Crollius, “it’s all the DNA that there is in living cells. It contains the genetic instructions that allow this or that organism to function”. Knowing the genome of these marine animals therefore makes it possible to better understand the evolutionary processes of species. the proximity between or such and such an organism. Scientists also hope that new genetic knowledge will help them better understand and deal with the appearance of invasive species on the coast.

Prevent plastic damage

The researchers imagine that this genetic atlas will also be used for medical research or to discover innovative molecules. Some molecules from the marine environment have interesting properties for medicine, the cosmetics industry, food, or agriculture. Knowing the details of the genetic instructions that allow these organisms to have these particular properties opens up the hope of perhaps one day being able to synthesize certain innovative molecules in the laboratory. Researchers are thinking in particular of antibacterials or plastic degradation processes

Eventually, all the genetic data from this program will be made available in an open database.

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