The Investissements d’Avenir project OCEANOMICS, builds on Tara Oceans. This expedition, conducted on a global scale, provides an overview of pelagic marine ecosystems on which few detailed studies have been undertaken to date. The use of cutting-edge and high throughput technologies in the fields of imaging and sequencing, combined with a large amount of environmental metadata, should lead to the identification of a significant structural and metagenetic diversity of different life forms present in plankton communities. This enormous amount of data is analyzed and processed by renowned French research groups in collaboration with select private partners from various industrial fields.
Marine biodiversity, a major asset to support France in the “blue revolution”.
The high throughput technologies developed in recent years in the field of biotechnology, now ensure that marine ecosystems can be studied at the same scale than terrestrial ecosystems. Oceans can be analyzed at the molecular and cellular levels using techniques called “-omics”, as well as cutting-edge imaging tools. In addition to describing the biodiversity present in a sea water sample, it’s also possible to identify the links between genes and environment. This opens new prospects for quality monitoring of ocean and coastal waters, but also for a new rational use of marine bioresources in agronomy, biotechnology or chemistry. In 2009, the Blue Book recording the commitments of the Grenelle de la Mer stressed that the sea is the first life potential of Humanity: food potential thanks to plankton, algae and animal proteins; medical potential through enzymes and molecules from marine organisms; energetic potential; scientific potential with a very low number of known species compared to the estimated total; and finally economic potential thanks to many professions related to the marine environments. Marine biotechnology is now a major component of biotechnology. France is particularly well positioned to explore and push forward this new frontier of innovation: it’s the only European nation with territories in every ocean of the world and the second world nation with the largest Exclusive Economic Zone (maritime space over which a State exercises sovereign rights in terms of exploration and use of resources), representing 20 times its land surface. France is able to rapidly develop the exploration of these relatively unknown territories. This is illustrated by the funding of 2 major projects in the field of marine biotechnology and bioresources through the Investissements d’Avenir programme: IDEALG and OCEANOMICS, both coordinated at the Roscoff Marine Station.
The high added value of ocean plankton.
On a global scale, plankton is estimated to represent about 98% of the biosphere. Every liter of sea water teems with tens of billions of living organisms of all kinds (viruses, prokaryotes, protists, microalgae and animals). In addition to its involvement in global change, plankton - as a result of its enormous biodiversity - is a huge reservoir of genes, molecules and networks between organisms. Subsequently, the plankton ecosystems have a colossal potential for their rational use in a knowledge-based bioeconomy. For example, providing leading-edge knowledge on the complex metabolic pathways that characterize these organisms; selecting model strains of interest and learning how to cultivate them on a large scale, are among the OCEANOMICS project tasks. This program aims at producing natural compounds with high potential, while preserving the natural resources of the oceans.
OCEANOMICS, Science & Industry.
France is primarily a “planktonic country” and in this field, the needs of the industrial sector (bio-fuels, bio-active compounds, new nanotechnologies, etc.) align with major scientific questions around plankton biodiversity. Increasing legal obligations for monitoring the marine ecosystems, prevention against biofouling on different types of coastal and off-shore facilities or against the spread of invasive species through ballast waters, illustrate the need to develop cutting-edge techniques for an overall monitoring of marine waters. In this context, OCEANOMICS analyzes and sorts an enormous amount of data from the Tara Oceans expedition with the purpose of understanding the functioning of these ecosystems and screening new select species intended for the research of compounds with high added value. The public / private nature of OCEANOMICS partnerships is essential to the development of a scientific research project, but also to give industry access to new resources.
OCEANOMICS, a legal and ethical context.
The use of marine bioresources collected in the world’s oceans requires that research complies with various international conventions on their access and use for scientific and exploitation purposes. OCEANOMICS is the first case study in France on the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol for marine genetic resources. This will enable marine biologists to be legally informed about access to bioresources and their use, and confront their needs with environmental protection rules.