MARINE GENOMICS: Tell me what’s your larva and I’ll tell you who you are.

The role of plankton in the marine ecosystems worldwide cannot be overestimated. Representing the bottom level of marine food-chains, it provides a crucial source of food for all other marine organisms and influences all universal biochemical cycles including carbon, nitrogen and oxygen cycles. Thus, the high importance of plankton studies becomes evident. Yet it is very difficult to investigate these microscopic organisms. Some of them are algae, others are bacteria, but there is also a large number of larvae in marine plankton. The taxonomic identification of such larvae is a critical step in describing diversity and understanding an ecosystem, but it also is a really difficult task.

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Dorothea Heimeier, Shane Lavery and Mary A. Sewell were not afraid of difficulties when they began the studies of Antarctic invertebrate larvae. The goal of the scientific group from New Zealand was to develop and implement a practical approach of identifying larvae using the newest methods of molecular genetics. They studied a wide range of plankton larvae found in Ross Sea, Antarctica, applying a complex of morphological and genetic methods including DNA barcoding.

They worked with over 2000 larval samples and achieved the identification for 35% of all individual specimens, which is a surprisingly good result in comparison with all previous works. The results of this study help to understand marine communities and are a critical step in describing their diversity. Also it provides a reference DNA database for future identification of marine invertebrates.

D. Heimeier, S. Lavery, M. A. Sewell. Using DNA barcoding and phylogenetics to identify Antarctic invertebrate larvae: Lessons from a large scale study. Marine Genomics, Volume 3, Issues 3–4, 2010, Pages 165–177

The report by Yana Frolova

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