The Ocean Gene Atlas: democratizing access to Tara data

© Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

The “Ocean Gene Atlas” (OGA) is the name of a new website giving access to the enormous quantity of complex data produced from the Tara Oceans expedition. A team from the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanology (MIO) linked to the scientific consortium and directed by Emilie Villar and Pascal Hingamp, has created this tool allowing any scientist who wishes to use the huge Tara Oceans database of genetic, environmental and taxonomic information.

A valuable dataset

Data from Tara’s global sampling of ocean plankton is available to the public for free. But in practice, the expertise in computer programming necessary to explore the data was a barrier for many scientists. In order to overcome this obstacle, the MIO team created OGA which brings together all the complex data and makes it readable for any researcher interested in the functioning and evolution of marine plankton. This initiative was necessary so that the potential of Tara Oceans’ data could be fully exploited and new knowledge derived from it.
Échantillon de plancton après filtration à travers un filtre de 10 microns dans le laboratoire humide de Tara
Filtered plankton samples – © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


A bio-geography of marine plankton genes

With a simple click and a few seconds of patience, an oceanographer will be able to know the global distribution as well as the abundance of a gene of interest, all in relation to the environmental conditions (temperature, oxygen concentration, pH, salinity, etc.). A researcher can also find out what types of organisms carry this gene in the global ocean. This rapid and detailed analysis can make it possible to validate hypotheses on the function of a gene, or reveal a gene where it was not expected, for example in the genome of other organisms. All this gives precious information on the evolution and adaptive capacity of marine plankton on which the rest of the marine food chain and climate balances depend.

New data and features to come

At present, most of the data on the OGA website is from the Tara Oceans expedition — more than 150 million genes, not including environmental and taxonomic data. The OGA catalog is designed to expand gradually, in rhythm with oceanographic campaigns. Data from Tara Oceans Polar Circle samples will be added soon. Some features of the site will also be improved, for example, taxonomic analysis will be refined.

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