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Genome Mapping and the first project in Indian Ocean

Shikha Goyal

Scientists and Researchers from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and other crew members on board its research vessel Sindhu Sadhna will spend the next 90 days traversing over 10,000 nautical miles in the Indian Ocean on a research project to understand the interior working of the body of the ocean at a cellular level.

What is the aim of the project?

This kind of project is the first in the country and its objective is to know the biochemistry and therefore the response of the ocean to global climate change, nutrient stress, and increasing pollution. 

To collect samples for genome mapping of microorganisms within the Indian Ocean.

What is the cost of the project?

As per the NIO Director Sunil Kumar Singh, the cost of the project is around Rs 25 crore and will take three years to complete.

What will the Scientists and Researchers do?

The team of researchers will travel from India's east coast all the way to Australia then towards Port Louis in Mauritius and up to the border of Pakistan.

For genome mapping, they will collect the samples of microorganisms in the Ocean at an average depth of 5 km.

As the gene mapping is done on human blood samples in the same way they will map the DNA and RNA of these microbes.

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How the study will help Scientists and Researchers?

- Scientists will understand the internal working of the ecosystem of the Indian Ocean.

- The study will help in recognising the stress factors that control the changes in RNA and DNA in ocean microbes.

- How they respond to a lack or excess of minerals and metals present in the water?

- What will be the impact on climate change and food cycles?

- Genome of the ocean will allow commercial biotechnology applications from anticancer treatments and industrial enzymes to antiviral molecules.

- The ocean consists of various micronutrients like nitrates, sulphates, and silicates, minerals like iron ore and zinc, and trace metals like cadmium or copper. Therefore, the genome mapping will show the presence of which of these microbes have adapted to and also their reaction to carbon dioxide.

- This in fact will help in identifying which part of the ocean has a greater concentration of which mineral or element.

- With the help of this, scientists will use these as tracers and tackle the causative factors for excess or lack of certain minerals or elements so that they can suggest some possible solutions for their mitigation.

Why is it important to study the interactions of tracing metals and marine plant and animal life?

Tracing several metals including cadmium or copper that are supplied to oceans through continental run-offs, atmospheric deposition, hydrothermal activities, and continental shelf interaction. As they are essential for ocean productivity.

According to the Scientists, it is necessary to understand the interactions of trace metals with marine biota "for having a holistic understanding about nutrient cycling and productivity of the oceans”.

Apart from this, isotopic forms of trace metals can be utilised to find the movement of water masses that are accountable for ocean circulation and as tools to study biological, geochemical, and ecosystem processes and food cycle analysis.

The project of NIO will help in creating new information about tracing metals from unexplored regions of the Indian Ocean.

Let us tell you that the Indian Ocean is the third largest water body in the world that covers about 20 percent of the Earth's water surface.

How they will collect the samples?

- A Kevlar cable of up to 8 km with a set of 24 Teflon coated bottles will be used for collecting the samples.

- The samples of bacteria will be stored at a temperature of -60 degrees Celsius with the help of liquid nitrogen.

- Onboard the research vessel, some samples will be tested at 6 laboratories and various samples will be brought back to NIO for analysis over the next three years.

What is Genome?

It is an entire set of DNA (or RNA in RNA viruses) of an organism.

Or we can say that a genome is an organism's complete set of genetic instructions. Each genome consists of the information required to build that organism and allow it to grow and develop.

In our genome, instructions are made up of DNA.

The human genome is formed from 3.2 billion bases of DNA but other organisms have different genome sizes.

Now, what is Genome Mapping?

It helps to identify and record the location of genes and therefore the distances between genes on a chromosome. It also provides a critical starting point for the Human Genome Project.

A genome map highlights the key 'landmarks' in an organism's genome.

Genome mapping is of two types:

- Linkage Mapping

- Physical Mapping

Linkage Mapping: It shows the arrangement of genes and genetic markers along the chromosomes as calculated by the frequency with which they are inherited together.

Physical Mapping: It represents chromosomes and provides physical distances between chromosomal landmarks mainly measured in nucleotide bases.

At last about National Institute of Oceanography (NIO)

Its headquarter is at Dona Paula, Goa, and regional centres at Kochi, Mumbai, and Vishakhapatnam.

It was established on 1 January, 1966 following the International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE) in the 1960s.

Since then, it grows in a multi-disciplinary oceanographic research institute of international repute.

The main focus of research is to observe and understand the special oceanographic characteristics of the Indian Ocean.

The major research areas include the four traditional branches of oceanography namely biological, chemical, geological/geophysical, and physical as well as ocean engineering, marine instrumentation, and marine archaeology.

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