Marine census

Global effort to map microbes gets underway

Published: Saturday 15 January 2005

Dutch and US scientists have commenced a 10-year, US $1 billion effort to catalogue all marine microbes -- the first-ever global endeavour. The ambitious project was jointly launched in December 2004 by scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole in the US and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

Called the International Census of Marine Microbes (ICOMM), the project will report what is known, what is unknown but knowable and what may never be known about the biodiversity of marine microorganisms.

Teeming microorganisms make up almost 90 per cent of ocean life. These microbes are believed to have played a significant role over more than three billion years in making the planet habitable for the higher forms of life.

About a dozen Census of Marine Life research projects are going on around the world. But, unlike ICOMM, each of them is restricted to a geographical location.

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