World’s largest catalogue of ocean DNA could boost drug discovery

Marine Diatom colony

The world’s most comprehensive database for understanding microbial distribution and function in the ocean has been released, opening up new opportunities for drug discovery.

Scientists at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia used the KAUST Metagenomic Analysis Platform (KMAP) to analyse massive amounts of sequencing data to release Global Ocean Gene Catalog 1.0.

The database is the world’s largest open-source catalogue of marine microbes and matches microbial class with gene function, geographic location and habitat type, including 317 million unique gene clusters.

The ocean’s microbes represent the earliest lifeforms on Earth, making them important to study, not only for the evolution of life, but also for biotechnology. For example, enzymes sourced from bacteria living around hydrothermal vents have been used to support the polymerase chain reaction, the test used for Covid-19 detection.

Moreover, the use of marine genetic resources in industrial processes yields an estimated $6 billion annually, a number that doubles every six years as more genes in ocean microbes are found.

“Scientists can access the catalogue remotely to search for biotechnology applications such as new antibiotics or new ways to break down plastics,” said KAUST Ibn Sina Distinguished Professor Carlos Duarte, who led the project. “The acceleration of AI we are currently experiencing is likely to play a major role in identifying genes of biotechnology interest contained within the massive catalogue we are releasing.”

The ability to collect and analyse such a new wealth of ocean data comes from major developments in DNA sequencing technology and computational power. Thus, the scientists could sequence 2102 ocean samples taken from different depths and locations around the world and, using Shaheen II, KAUST’s previous supercomputer, analyse the sequences to identify the more than 317 million gene groups.

Related Articles

Join FREE today and become a member
of Drug Discovery World

Membership includes:

  • Full access to the website including free and gated premium content in news, articles, business, regulatory, cancer research, intelligence and more.
  • Unlimited App access: current and archived digital issues of DDW magazine with search functionality, special in App only content and links to the latest industry news and information.
  • Weekly e-newsletter, a round-up of the most interesting and pertinent industry news and developments.
  • Whitepapers, eBooks and information from trusted third parties.
Join For Free