Over the course of one week, top scientists from the University of Florida (UF) successfully sequenced two genomes per day, proving that modern technology and instrumentation traditionally found in top biomedical centers can function accurately in the field.
On January 28, 2014 the forty-three meter expedition yacht, Copasetic, made course for the Bahamian island of Bimini with a cutting-edge mobile genome sequencing laboratory placed on the bow. Under the direction of Dr. Leonid Moroz, a world expert in neuroscience and genome sequencing, a team of scientists from UF collected over 1,000 samples of marine life for analysis in the mobile laboratory.
The Florida Biodiversity Institute (FBI) designed this mobile laboratory to contain everything Dr. Moroz and his team would need to analyze DNA and RNA from animals collected at sea. The research team’s focus was on small animals that can be caught using a plankton net. Under normal circumstances, tissues sampled at sea quickly degrade before getting back to the laboratory on land. Thanks to the onboard genome sequencing laboratory, animal tissues samples were quickly prepared for DNA and RNA. Using satellite communication on the yacht, the data was then sent back to the main laboratory at the Whitney Laboratory of Marine Bioscience at University of Florida where their supercomputer, the HiPerGator, could sequence the genome.
This expedition was a huge success! The research team sequenced a total of 15 genomes in Bimini and extracted DNA and RNA from an additional 200 samples to be analyzed back at the University of Florida. Even more importantly, this trip proved that real-time genome sequence at sea is possible. Dr. Moroz hopes to be able to continue this research by finding other yachts that can accommodate the laboratory so that he may continue his research around the world. A second trip off Key Largo followed weeks after this first expedition.
Collaborations between UF, The International SeaKeepers Society, FBI, Ocean Research Corporation and Life Technologies transformed this innovative endeavor from a proposal to a pioneering success.