A four member research team along with half a million dollar worth of equipment – the DNA sequencer set out to analyze DNA in the most unusual location- the sea. The researchers have proved that it is possible to conduct real-time genome sequencing at sea.
A four member team from the San Diego University has become the first group in the world to attempt real-time genome sequencing at sea. Their expedition was documented and published as an article in the journal PeerJ.
The four member team embarked on a three-week, five-island trip in 2013. The team was composed of postdoctoral scholar Andreas Haas, San Diego State University computer scientist Rob Edwards, graduate student Yan Wei Lim and biologist Forest Rohwer.
Samples were collected from numerous coral reefs which are present in the southern Line Islands’. The research teams were able to sequence 26 bacterial genomes along with two metagenomes which assess the entire DNA present in a particular given region.
The expedition was fraught with difficulties and danger. For one the scientists had to haul heavy and costly equipment in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean. The DNA sequencer for the research was made available by San Diego-based biotech company Life Technologies.
The research team also had to chalk out a protocol to try to sequence the DNA in a remote location. The team made a makeshift laboratory in the laundry room of the ship MY Hanse Explorer and the upper deck was converted into a temporary microbiology lab.
While in normal circumstances, calibrating the sequencer would take only 15 minutes. However on the deck of a moving ship it took almost five hours. Another major hurdle was sample collection from the ocean which was thickly infested with killer sharks.
In the end the toils of the researchers were successful and they have now established that they can collect and process data at the study site.
Edwards said in a news release, “At the end of the day, we were able to come up with the data we needed. But when we go back next time, we’re going to be better prepared.”