Genetic material from the Chilean ocean will make it possible to study the effects of the climate crisis


A floating laboratory, which has been involved in analyzing the marine microbiome around the world, has concluded its long journey in the oceans and begins a new one within four walls. The so-called Microbiomes Mission managed to carry out a complete sampling of the genetic material of sea-dwelling microorganisms, a journey that included the Chilean sea border, the Atlantic coasts of South America and Africa, and which also included Antarctica , according to the University of Chile.

In our country, the schooner Tara traveled from Punta Arenas to Iquique, passing through the bay of Puerto Montt, Talcahuano and Valparaíso. This trip was developed thanks to a collaboration between the Tara Ocean Foundation and its associated Chilean program, CEODOS Chile, in which the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM) of the University of Chile plays a key role in the analysis of the obtained samples.

“Many times we believe that mathematics is a calculation, but it is a way of observing reality. When we have a lot of organized data, mathematics tries to understand and brings out its hidden structure. The CMM will contribute the mathematical insight into this problem, namely how we analyze and perceive data and how observation allows us to develop mathematical theories that, in some way, explain how climate change is affecting ocean biodiversity. and the services it provides,” explained CEODOS mission co-director and Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM) principal investigator, Alejandro Maass.

“The long-term mission seeks to understand how plankton services in the oceans vary with changes in the environment and pollution, which, in turn, are related to changes in climate. In this way, we will be able to advance our understanding of the impact of climate change on the ocean. We also want to help define a methodology that allows key planktonic zones to be defined for the services it provides,” Maass explained.

Briefing for seafarers. Credit: Maéva Bardy – Tara Ocean Foundation.

Science for decision making

The expedition took place throughout Chile in several places of great importance for national oceanography, where it was essential to characterize and understand oceanic phenomena and services, such as the pristine fjords around northern Punta Arenas, the upwelling of the Biobío region, the mouth of rivers throughout the national territory and transects involving evolving glaciers.

The co-director of the CEODOS Chile program, chief scientist in the Concepción – Valparaíso phase and director of the COPAS Coastal Center, Camila Fernández, analyzed the end of this cycle.

“This is the end of fieldwork, but, as with all scientific expeditions, it is the beginning of paperwork. We have created a consortium in centers, i.e. a group of centers of excellence in Chile working with the same goal, who are committed to generating similar shipments over time so that marine protected areas in Chile are defined according to climate value. ,” he said.

He also referred to the difficulties of this expedition.

“There was no way to get the shipment off the ground. France was in quarantine, we received the sailboat in Punta Arenas in quarantine, and then we moved to Chilean waters in quarantine. Indeed, between Puerto Montt and Concepción, the ship had to be diverted to perform an emergency PCR, because we suspected that Covid was on board. Thankfully it was a false alarm,” she said.

4,500 samples

This research, which obtained 4,500 plankton samples, seeks to provide scientific tools so that future global environmental decisions can be made with the necessary evidence. It is for this reason that this data will also be in the public domain.

“It’s much easier to make society understand the changes we need to make if the data to support it is available to the whole community. This is an unprecedented database, so we are already preparing the algorithms, mathematical models and artificial intelligence that will allow us to understand what controls the microscopic inhabitants of the ocean, which help us survive,” explained Camila Fernandez.

The national research centers participating in this research are the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM); the Associated International Laboratory “Multiscale Adaptive Strategies” (LIA MAST); the Center for Climate Science and Resilience (CR2); the Center for Dynamic Research in High-Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL); the Patagonia Ecosystem Research Center (CIEP); the Oceanographic Research Center (Copas Coastal); the Center for Genome Regulation (CRG); the Interdisciplinary Center for Aquaculture Research (INCAR) and Inria Chile.

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