When it comes to creatures living in the oceans, I, like most people, have always been enthralled by the popular favorites such as whales, polar bears and sea otters. It takes a special person to appreciate that there is just as much wonder to be found in the ocean’s smallest and humblest organic forms—the microbes, genes and proteins without which the more charismatic creatures wouldn’t exist at all.
J. Craig Venter, 60, a former National Institutes of Health physiologist, who led the effort to sequence and publish the human genome in 2001, is one such person. Through the institute that bears his name, he is sponsoring the second of two global expeditions by the research ship Sorcerer II to sample microbes and proteins throughout the world’s oceans and seas.
The Sorcerer II’s journeys have so far yielded a database of 6.3 million genetic base pairs and 1,700 new families of proteins, not to mention 150 new species of microbes in waters off Bermuda that were once considered a biological desert—and the searching and counting is nowhere near complete.