The microbiome of our Ocean is a largely unknown universe of microscopic organisms forging intricate relationships and performing roles that benefit the wider ocean and planet. They are nutrient providers, cloud formers, waste removers, water purifiers, chemical engineers, and architects of the ocean food web. They produce as much oxygen and absorb more carbon dioxide than all of the world's forests.

Researchers from the Tara Oceans, the Tara Ocean Foundation, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the European Marine Biological Resource Centre (EMBRC-ERIC) have worked together to set key priorities tackling the challenge of understanding the marine microbiome, how it functions, how it responds to climate change, and crucially how this will impact the vital services that we depend upon from the oceans.

The threats we are currently facing such as global heating, melting sea ice, ocean acidification, degraded coastlines, overfishing, and plastic or contaminants pollution can distort the ocean microbiome and undermine their productivity, the amount of oxygen they produce, and the quantities of carbon they shuttle to the deep ocean.

The paper – just published on Nature Microbiology – highlights priorities for understanding and protecting the ocean microbiome, such as sustainable ocean observations, the promotion of ocean and microbial literacy, the development of research infrastructures, and dedicated funding programmes. The paper defines the immediate challenges we face in this endeavour, and calls upon researchers, policymakers, educators, funders, entrepreneurs, citizen scientists, and the general public to all contribute to this momentous challenge.

Understanding the ocean microbiome is one of the most exciting areas of research today and many questions remains unanswered by science. As teams of researchers around the world continue to uncover its greatest secrets, this paper aims to focus our collective efforts and strive for the tools and means necessary to tackle one of the most important questions in marine biology today.

The paper can be found here:
To learn more about the marine microbiome, see also the post by Chris Bowler (corresponding author of the paper) on the blog in the Nature Microbiology’s Community.

Picture credits: Tabea Rauscher and Rayne Zaayamn-Gallant, European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).

About EMBL
EMBL is Europe’s flagship laboratory for the life sciences – an intergovernmental organisation with more than 80 independent research groups covering the spectrum of molecular biology, including a new programme in planetary biology.
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About Tara Oceans
Tara Oceans is an international consortium of academic scientists who organized the Tara Oceans expedition from 2009-2013 and continues to explore the rich datasets generated from the project, which represent the largest DNA sequencing effort ever performed for the ocean.
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