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Yacht for Sale: Suited for Sailing, Surfing, and Seaborne Metagenomics

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Craig Venter is selling the yacht that has enabled him to circumnavigate the world and perform oceanographic metagenomic research, GenomeWeb Daily News has learned.
JCVI spokesperson Heather Kowalski confirmed that Venter is selling the boat, a 95-foot-long, 23-foot-wide sloop named Sorcerer II, saying that it has been on the market for “a while.” She did not elaborate, but said it may have been on the block while it was being used this summer performing research.  
Kowalski stressed, however, that selling Sorcerer II does not spell the end for Venter’s salty scientific escapes. She hinted that there may be future oceangoing expeditions that could involve partners collecting samples from other regions.
She would not elaborate, but said the JCVI may soon disclose new partnerships and/or grant or funding agreements.
Sorcerer II was designed by legendary Argentine yachtsman Germàn Frers and built by T.P. Cookson in 1998, according to yachting outfitter Camper & Nicholsons, the company commissioned to sell the sloop. Venter bought it from an owner who had it built for cruising around Australia and New Zealand and doing salvage and diving work, according to a report in an Alaskan newspaper in July as Sorcerer II’s crew collected microbial samples in nearby waters.
The yacht has been a floating lab since 2003, when the JCVI launched a pilot project in the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda that used whole-genome shotgun sequencing to identify at least 1,800 new species and more than 1.2 million new genes.
This research, which appeared in Science, was paid for by the US Department of Energy's Office of Science and the JCVI’s J. Craig Venter Science Foundation, and was performed in collaboration with the Institute for Genomic Research, the University of Southern California, and the Bermuda Biological Station for Research.
Kowalski said the JCVI has a “very large backlog of samples to process and analyze,” estimating that roughly one-third of the samples from the pilot project have been analyzed to date. The samples are currently stored at the JCVI in Maryland.

The Sargasso Sea trip was followed by a circumnavigation, called the Sorcerer II Expedition, designed to survey marine and terrestrial microbial populations around the world. It was funded by the DOE, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, JCVI internal funding, and Discovery Channel Quest program.

Findings from the circumnavigation resulted in several studies published in PLoS Biology that describe “millions of new genes, thousands of new protein families,” and characterize thousands of new protein kinases.

According to the Venter Institute, the dataset is 90 times larger than other marine metagenomic datasets, “thus making it the largest-ever released in the public domain,” and almost doubles the number of previously known proteins.
In one of the PLoS Biology papers, the authors describe the results of metagenomic analysis of 37 samples taken aboard Sorcerer II in 2003 and 2004, combined with seven samples collected during the pilot project in the Sargasso Sea. The group analyzed a dataset of 7.7 million DNA sequences totaling 6.3 billion base pairs.
In another paper, the authors describe 6.12 million new proteins uncovered from 7.7 million GOS sequences by using a new sequence clustering approach. The researchers found that the GOS dataset covered almost all of the known prokaryote protein families and that there were 1,700 unique protein families in the GOS dataset. The researchers were also able to match 6,000 previously unmatched sequences in current protein databases to proteins in the dataset.
With the circumnavigation concluded in 2005, Sorcerer II was refitted and sailed from Virginia in December 2006, inched through the Panama Canal, and cruised up the west coast of Central and North America before reaching Alaska, where her crew has been performing research as of July 23.

Matt Jones contributed to this report.

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