The Oceanomics project, which was launched in March 2013, aims to develop knowledge of the biodiversity of plankton in order to allow the researchers to find new bioresources and technology, including compounds for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.
The project is being managed by ten academic laboratories and six independent partners, with additional input from other none-funded institutions, and is expected to build up a large collaborative network of researchers during its development and has already won first place in the 'Biotechnology and Bioresources' section of the government program, 'Ínvestments for the Future.'
According to one of the researchers; “Several new drugs have been derived from recent exploration of coastal marine ecosystems, but plankton remains largely unexplored and therefore has an incredible potential to extend this list.”
A systems-level survey
Stéphane Bach, a researcher, said: “Oceanomics aims to perform the first systems-level, planetary scale, quantitative survey of marine plankton in order to unveil the structure, function, and dynamic properties of its ecological biodiversity.
“We aim to transfer the acquired genomic, molecular, organismal, and bioinformatics/bioimaging knowledge to French industries, SMEs, and start-up companies,” she adds.
The project will use purification techniques and screening for active factors to detect potentially useful cosmetics and pharmaceutical products in marine plankton.
The survey will tap into data from the thousands of samples taken from the Tara Oceans expedition, one of the biggest plankton sampling surveys of all time.
The team will focus on exploring these samples using DNA sequencing and high-speed imaging in order to find out about their genes and geomes and how they function in relation to their environment.
The researchers plan to spend two years collecting eco-morpho-genetic data, and an additional year expressing the information into a computer system.
They believe that it will take five years to develop “a deep understanding of the structure and functioning of planktonic ecosystems” and seven years to “discover and start patenting planktonic molecules of interest to society.”
Funding the project
The project has been funded by a €7 million grant from the National Agency for Research for the period from 2013-2020.
The funding originates from the “Grand Emprunt National,” a €21.9bn investment established to support French higher education and research.