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Venter launches research vessel

Reminiscent of the historic expedition undertaken by 19th century evolution naturalist Charles Darwin’s HMS Beagle, modern-day genomics pioneer and UCSD grad J. Craig Venter launched his research vessel, Sorcerer II, March 19 from San Diego on a voyage of “microbial discovery.”

The vessel, scientists and crew including Venter in 2009-2010 will sample microbial DNA in the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean seas. The Sorcerer II’s crew will take water samples approximately every 200 miles and filter it to capture various-sized organisms to be shipped back to the States for genetic sequencing and analysis.

The expedition’s goal is to evaluate the microbial diversity in the world’s oceans. With a better understanding of marine microbial biodiversity, scientists will be able to understand how ecosystems function and to discover new genes of ecological and evolutionary importance.

This two-year leg of the Sorcerer II Expedition was funded by donations from the Beyster Family Foundation Fund of The San Diego Foundation and Life Technologies. Previously, the Sorcerer II has circumnavigated the globe collecting water samples from as nearby as California and the West Coast to as far away as Antarctica and deep sea ocean vents.

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The latest Sorcerer II expedition is being conducted under the auspices of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). Formed in October 2006, JCVI has become a world leader in genomic research with more than 400 scientists and staff, 250,000–plus square feet of laboratory space and locations in Maryland and San Diego.

Among his many scientific achievements, Venter led the scientific team that published the first complete (six-billion-letter) genome of an individual human - Venter’s own DNA sequence - in 2007.