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Tara Oceans scienceResearch

Click image to see full map – image credit: 2012 N. Le Bescot, F. Not / EPPO / SB Roscoff / CNRS

Plankton ecosystems contain a phenomenal reservoir of life: more than 10 billion organisms inhabit every litre of oceanic water, including viruses, prokaryotes, unicellular eukaryotes (protists), and metazoans.

The extreme turnover rates and complex biotic interactions that characterise plankton as compared to terrestrial or benthic marine communities, make plankton ecosystems a natural cyclotron for life, accelerating the pace of evolution/selection of fundamental metabolisms and phenotypes, and thus of organisms that transform matter and energy on a planetary scale. Moreover, the efficient symbiosis between plankton and scleractinian corals is a pivotal interaction for the growth and maintenance of coral reefs, known to harbour the highest benthic biodiversity in the oceans.

We currently know very little about plankton ecosystems, their evolution, and the critical roles they play in Earth's chemical, ecological and climatic states. Yet hey represent an enormous but largely untapped source of unique organisms and bioactive compounds relevant for bio-industries involved in pharmaceutics, nutrition, cosmetics, bioenergy and nanotechnology. The dramatic lack of knowledge on plankton biota has hindered the development of this kind of applications as well as our understanding of this major earth ecosystem.