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Minderoo Foundation and Illumina Commit $40M AUD to Apply Advanced Genomics to Marine Conservation
New partnership will use the power of high-throughput sequencing to measure and understand marine life in our oceans at a rate that eclipses traditional research methods
Minderoo Foundation and Illumina, Inc. have announced a 40 million Australian dollar (US $27.8 million) partnership that will leverage the power of genomics to accelerate scientific understanding of marine systems and help marine conservationists make informed decisions. The three-year partnership demonstrates a shared commitment to conserving marine biodiversity and understanding the changing marine ecosystems on which people and national economies depend.
Minderoo Foundation's director of OceanOmics, Dr. Steve Burnell, said that scaling environmental DNA (eDNA) technologies and applying new computational and artificial-intelligence-enabled approaches have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of life in the ocean and our ability to protect it.
"By rapidly identifying species that may be endangered, invasive, or otherwise poorly understood, the research will contribute data and information to support timely and impactful marine biodiversity conservation," Burnell said. "Minderoo Foundation is committed to returning our oceans to a flourishing state."
Surveillance of marine ecosystems using eDNA can increase the resolution and sensitivity with which scientists understand biodiversity and can measure change. A cup of seawater can contain millions of pieces of eDNA and cells, providing a snapshot of the life forms present and, potentially, information on their population size and health. However, in typical seawater samples, more than 98% of the DNA sequences recovered belong to marine microbes. Through this partnership, innovations from the human health industry will be adapted to help enrich these complex marine samples for sequence information specific to marine vertebrates.
The partners will also engage in research and development projects to create high-throughput genome sequences from known marine vertebrates to enable identification of unknown eDNA sequences from seawater. Because only 1% of the roughly 21,000 known species of marine vertebrate genomes have been sequenced, one major objective is to create reference genomes from the wealth of samples already held in museum collections.
As part of this broad research and development partnership, Minderoo Foundation installed a NextSeq™ 2000 Sequencing System, one of Illumina's most advanced high-throughput benchtop DNA sequencers, aboard its research vessel.
Illumina Head of Global Commercial Strategy & General Manager of Asia Pacific and Japan Gretchen Weightman said installing the NextSeq 2000 directly onto Minderoo's research vessel has allowed the partners to demonstrate, for the first time, truly high-throughput sequencing at sea, enabling near real-time production of marine genetic information, from seawater samples to high-quality sequencing data, in a matter of hours.
"Backed by Illumina's leading technologies, researchers will gather crucial data and gain a greater understanding of the significant implications for the way the world's oceans are managed, considering commercial fishing and protection requirements," Weightman said.
ABOUT MINDEROO FOUNDATION
Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, Minderoo Foundation is a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean conservation and ending slavery, to collaboration against cancer and building community projects.
Illumina is improving human health by unlocking the power of the genome. Our focus on innovation has established us as a global leader in DNA sequencing and array-based technologies, serving customers in the research, clinical, and applied markets. Our products are used for applications in the life sciences, oncology, reproductive health, agriculture, and other emerging segments.