KAUST releases largest catalog of ocean DNA

17 January, 2024

A new study by KAUST and collaborators in Spain provides the world's most comprehensive database yet for understanding microbial distribution and function in the ocean. Using the KAUST Metagenomic Analysis Platform (KMAP), a KAUST invention from 2021, the scientists analyzed massive amounts of sequencing data to release Global Ocean Gene Catalog 1.0. This catalog is the world's largest open-source catalog of marine microbes and matches microbial class with gene function, geographic location and habitat type, including 317 million unique gene clusters.

The ocean's microbes represent the earliest lifeforms on Earth and have evolved the capacity to metabolize compounds that affect the cycles of elements like nitrogen, sulfur and carbon, which control ocean productivity and affect climate stability. Their beginnings at the bottom of the sea have made them a fascinating study not only for the evolution of life but also for biotechnology. For example, enzymes sourced from bacteria living around hydrothermal vents have been used to support the polymerase chain reaction, the test used for COVID-19 detection. Moreover, the use of marine genetic resources in industrial processes yields an estimated $6 billion annually, a number that doubles every six years as more genes in ocean microbes are found.

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