In 2015, the Plankton Planet team developed a simple method, requiring neither chemical products nor electricity, for concentrating planktonic biomass and preserving it by dessication. A prototype of the «XplorGEN» plankton toolkit has been distributed to 15 teams of planktonauts who will test the protocol while collecting plankton samples from ~500 sites across the breadth of the world’s oceans. The samples will be sequenced and analyzed as soon as possible following their collection in order to demonstrate the power of citizen oceanography based on inexpensive and environmentally friendly methods, and on the desire for discovery shared by both planktonauts and oceanographers.
*1 sample = 2 filters
The «Plankton Planet» Sail4Science program aims to create a direct link between a network of citizen navigators (the planktonauts) sampling the world plankton year after year, and leading international experts in oceanography carrying out scientific analyses on the material collected. The samples and data generated will provide critically needed information to measure plankton biodiversity, understand its changes over space and time, and predict its evolution in future oceans.
Figure 1. The functional pipeline of the Plankton Planet – Sail for Science project consists of (i) organizing an international fleet of planktonauts willing to give a few hours per week in order to help understanding an ecological compartment essential to the functioning of our planet (a, b); (ii) assembling the XplorGEN kit designed to sample living plankton and measure physico-chemical environmental parameters, optimized for use by citizens without specific scientific expertise (c to f), (iii) organizing a standardized sample processing pipeline, from sample delivery to a cryo-preserved collection center, extraction of DNA followed by massive barcode sequencing, to bioinformatic analyses characterizing the samples. Results will be immediately made available on the web for all scientists, citizens, and global decision-makers concerned with the biodiversity, evolution and health of our oceans (g to i).
Figure 2. Trajectories of the 15 sailboats that will test the Plankton Planet protocol in 2015 (Plankton Planet Pilot Project, funded by the R. Lounsbery Foundation).
Following this testing phase, the XplorGEN plankton toolkit will be distributed in large numbers to pre-existing networks that coordinate long-distance sailors, who will then take the pulse of the total biodiversity of the plankton on spatio-temporal scales never before explored.
The planktonauts, who will also be equipped with small microscopes to view and photograph their plankton «catch», will become the sentinels of the biological health of our oceans.
The millions of DNA barcodes derived from global navigational circuits will permit scientists to understand and predict how planktonic biodiversity is organized and how it adapts to the environment, especially in light of ongoing global climate change.
The cryopreserved sample collection, accumulated over the years, will become a unique genomic archive of the global biodiversity of our oceans. This repository will be available for continued analysis with future DNA sequencing technologies, thus ensuring a memory of the changing oceans for future generations.