Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Census of Marine Life

As part of my Pro Life Agenda, I had called for a Species Census. So I was quite pleased to read about the Census of Marine Life that is taking place in this month's Scientific American. From the site:

More than 1,000 scientists from 70 countries are involved in the Census of Marine Life's investigation of the world's oceans. It is a ten-year initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the ocean and explain how it changes over time.
Hopefully they will be able to catalog all of the species out there and get a good estimate of their populations.

They are using a technique called DNA Barcoding to uniquely identify each species using a small section of its DNA. Cool concept but I am skeptical that you can find a segment of DNA that is identical for all members of the species and that no 2 species have the same one. But maybe it works in 99% of the cases and for the others you can have a secondary system to get the rest.

They also created this kind of cool tool that allows you to type in any species name (or you can select a geographical region) and get all the data that has been collected on it. Unfortunately they don't have any estimated population counts which is what I was really hoping for.

Already they are finding interesting stuff such as this:
Sogin's research team discovered 20,000 separate species of microbes per every litre of sea water during its study, which will be published today in the science journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The finding blows previous estimates out of the water, previously gauged at 1,000 to 3,000, and threatens to make scientists re-think the limits on how different forms of life can evolve and adapt together.

''From that small sample, we see much greater diversity than we ever imagined,'' said Sogin. ''The number of different kinds of bacteria in the oceans could eclipse five to 10 million.''
Sounds like a lot of good research being done and I hope they make it all publicly available via the internet when they are done.

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