Fishing for mankind

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MARCH 19 — A team of scientists who spent two years trawling the world’s oceans for bacteria and viruses have discovered millions of new genes and gene families.

The team, led by genome pioneer Craig Venter, found genes that help microbes use the sun’s energy in new ways and genes that protect organisms from ultraviolet light, news reports say. In the March issue of the journal PLoS Biology, the team claims it identified more than 6 million new proteins.

“We are starting to view the world in a gene-centered format,” Venter, who helped map the human genome nearly 10 years ago, says in a news report. “Our goal is actually to try and sort out evolution, working back to what organisms are there.”

Venter’s team worked aboard the 95-foot sloop, Sorcerer II, a yacht that was converted into a research vessel, reports say. They collected sea water samples and examined the DNA of the organisms they found.

A scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., called the study a remarkable achievement. “As amazing as this inventory is, it’s only scratching the surface of what’s really there,” he says in a news report.

Jason Fell