The alien world of the deep sea is 300 times the size of the space inhabited by Earth’s land-dwelling species. It is unimaginably cold and cloaked in near-total darkness. Yet the blackness is alive, swarming with untold armies of fantastical creatures.
Northeastern’s Ocean Genome Legacy maintains a collection of marine DNA and tissue samples that is unlike anything else in the world. The repository was built from a desire to preserve organisms that may one day go extinct. Samples come from all over the globe.
The Ocean Genome Legacy accepts contributions from anyone. That open policy has guided the collection’s growth.
“We’re pretty open minded about the value of samples, because you never know where discovery is going to come from,” said Dan Distel,
research professor at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center and executive director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center.
Researchers and scientists from 75 countries have contributed to the collection. The center has distributed more than 2,400 samples to researchers in 12 countries, all to advance society’s understanding of aquatic life. Nearly 9,000 come from species that have never been discovered before.
Most samples in the repository were gathered from shallow ocean water. Because from zero to about 100 meters, researchers can use nets—and if necessary, scuba gear—to collect samples. Anything deeper requires a submarine.
The deeper we go, the less we know. Samples from the deep sea are often unidentified and haven’t been named beyond their higher taxon.
The collection houses and preserves specimens from more than 1,025 marine families and over 3,100 identified species. A handful of samples in the repository are from endangered species.
“We need to know more about the ocean in order to realistically lessen man’s impact on the ocean,” said Distel. “That’s going to take knowledge, and knowledge comes from research.”