Monday, January 6, 2014

NRC survey: Research Priorities for Marine Science

I received an e-mail from the INDEEP mailing list, asking me to participate in a Virtual Town Hall on marine science research priorities, currently being run by the NRC. Here's the rundown from their website:
The National Research Council, at the request of the National Science Foundation, is seeking guidance from the ocean sciences community on the prioritization of research and facilities for the coming decade. The Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences (DSOS) committee has been assembled for this task. To fulfill its charge, the DSOS committee is asking for community input via this Virtual Town Hall. To submit your input, please fill out the following identifying information, since anonymous comments will not be collected or posted. The deadline to submit your comments is March 15, 2014.
I figured I'd post my survey answers here (it would be great to generate some discussion about how we can promote greater emphasis on genomic tools and high-throughput sequencing in marine ecosystems - in particular the deep sea):

Across all ocean science disciplines, please list 3 important scientific questions that you believe will drive ocean research over the decade.

1) What is the role of microbial processes in ecosystem function?

2) How do microbes respond to (and impact) climate change?

3) How do we integrate knowledge from different fields (e.g. physical oceanography, biogeochemistry, taxonomy, marine biology) to gain a more comprehensive view of the marine environment?

Within your own discipline, please list 3 important scientific questions that you believe will drive ocean research over the next decade.

1) Characterizing phylogeographic patterns in microbial eukaryotes using genomic data. What is the proportion of comopolitan vs. regionally restricted species in different marine habitats?

2) Linking genomic data (DNA, RNA, genome sequences) to the existing body of morphological, ecological and taxonomic data. Particularly important for microbial species where each of these data types exists in discipline-specific silos. How can such linked data further our understanding of marine ecosystems?

3) How do we build accurate models (e.g. using robust algorithms and existing data as training sets) to predict species distributions and the potential impacts of climate change?

Please list 3 ideas for programs, technology, infrastructure, or facilities that you believe will play a major role in addressing the above questions over the next decade. Please consider both existing and new technology/facilities/infrastructure/programs that could be deployed in this timeframe. What mechanisms might be identified to best leverage these investments (interagency collaborations, international partnerships, etc.)?

1) In order to address ecosystem-scale questions, and use cutting-edge methods to do so, the marine science community (particularly ecologists and taxonomists) need to forge links with researchers in genomics and computational biology. DNA sequencing is largely under utilized in marine environments (notably lacking in the deep-sea), yet it offers a deep, cost-effective view of species, populations, and communities. Yet, computational expertise is needed to effectively apply genomic tools to marine systems, and that expertise must come from researchers who are knowledgeable about current software and algorithms (workflows optimized for "big data").

2) Funding initiatives or programs emphasizing microbial eukaryotes are needed to complement the (currently much greater) emphasis on bacteria/archaea, macro fauna and megafauna. Meiofauna and protists underpin many key ecosystem processes (e.g. nutrient cycling), but their role in marine habitats is perpetually understudied. We lack even a basic understanding of global biodiversity and species distributions for the majority of microbial metazoan phyla.

3) Marine sampling protocols MUST adopt forward-looking approaches. Ship time is expensive, and samples from habitats such as the deep-sea are precious and difficult to obtain (particularly for researchers in the genomics or computational biology communities, who may not have the professional connections needed to obtain biological samples). Many sample preservation methods do not consider the potential long-term use of a sample; for example, using formalin to preserve sediment immediately destroys the possibility of using that sample for DNA sequencing. There are many alternate sample preservation methods that preserve both DNA and morphological features (e.g. DESS is effective for sampling microbial metazoa). Giving deeper thought to sample collection, and prioritizing DNA preservation from diverse marine environments, is CRITICAL for furthering our understanding of marine biodiversity, biogeography, and ecology.

To give your own input, fill out the survey at this link:

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