NEW YORK, April 8 - Sequencing the starfish? Fingerprinting Flipper? It may not be far off.
San Diego's Scripps Institute of Oceanography, one of the United States' premier oceanographic institutes, is now preparing to launch a new center for genomic sciences.
In an interview with GenomeWeb, SIO Director Charles Kennel said that it was a series of conversations with San Diego biotech industry leaders--and with Craig Venter--that convinced him Scripps should get involved in genomic research.
"We needed a way of taking the marine science and connecting it to the rest of [University of California San Diego], the La Jolla [biotech] community, and biology in general," Kennel said.
Venter, a UCSD grad, joined SIO's Director's Council in 1999. "He came by and talked to our scientists, and we started thinking more seriously about genomic techniques," said Kennel. "I realized [that] we had a first-class collection of marine microbiologists on staff. In particular, we had some very fine organismic biologists. What we were missing was an entrée into bioinformatics."
Newer genomic and bioinformatic technologies could help answer some fundamental questions in ocean science, said Kennel. For example, microbial diversity in the ocean is not well understood, and there are still millions of species that have not been identified. Yet oceanic phytoplankton and microbes play a defining role in the ecosystem that retires much of the carbon dioxide in the global carbon cycle.
Marine organisms are also an untapped source of bioactive compounds that could prove medically useful, said Kennel.
SIO administration is closing in on a candidate for director, and hopes to make an appointment by the summer. Kennel would say only that the candidate is a young East Coast academic.
The new center won't be heavy on equipment. Scripps already has a microarray processor, and Kennel said large-instrument purchases aren't part of the plan. Rather, the director will be involved in coordinating and directing programs within the institute, and linking up with genomic researchers at UCSD and the San Diego biotech industry, he said.
"Our question is, 'By connecting much more closely to the world of biomedical research, can you make a dramatic leap forward in understanding basic biological issues in the ocean?' It's a very big world out there, but we've got a chance."