OceanGate plans DNA testing during Titanic dives

In the submarinePilot Stockton Rush confers with others during a dive to the Titanic wreck site in 2021. (OceanGate Photo)

What lurks on the shipwreck of the Titanic, nearly 13,000 below the surface of the North Atlantic? Everett, Washington-based OceanGate aims to help scientists find out by cataloging the genomic signatures in the deep ocean.

Researchers will collect water samples at various depths during a series of dives planned this summer by OceanGate’s Titan submarine, then analyze the samples to identify the DNA trapped within them.

The results are expected to give scientists a deeper understanding of deep-sea biodiversity, and may also shed new light on some of the lingering mysteries surrounding the world’s best-known shipwreck.

“This is groundbreaking deep-sea research,” Steve W. Ross, a research professor at the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said in a news release. Ross participated in OceanGate Expeditions’ Titanic study in 2021 and will be chief scientist for this summer’s expedition.

Over the past 110 years, the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic — and the loss of more than 1,500 passengers and crew — have provided the inspiration for countless tragic stories, including an Oscar-winning film. In the same period, the rusting wreck has created an artificial reef for life at the bottom of the sea.

An image from the 2021 Titanic Survey Expedition shows “rusticles” hanging down from the shipwreck’s iconic bow. The rusticles are made by microbes that feed on the rusting metal of the ship. (OceanGate photo)

“This study will give us a very different picture of this unique habitat while making a significant contribution to shared deepwater DNA data sets,” Ross said. “Water samples taken and analyzed using advanced genomics technologies will not only help us identify the life forms we can observe directly from the Titan submarine, but will also give us a complete picture of the life forms we cannot. This includes invisible signs of both microscopic creatures and larger animals leaving traces of DNA in the water around the Titanic.”

The study will use eDNAtec’s EnviroSeq approach to high-capacity genomic sequencing of environmental DNA, or eDNA for short.

“We will conduct a longitudinal eDNA study to document the marine biodiversity of the Titanic’s deep-water ecosystem,” said Mehrdad Hajibabaei, the founder and Chief Scientific Officer of eDNAtec. “This is one of the deepest and most ambitious studies we’ve conducted.”

In response to the question emailed from GeekWire, Ross said he expected the OceanGate Expeditions team to collect at least 10 gallons of water for sampling during each dive. OceanGate plans to make three to five dives during each of its five scheduled missions this summer, with each mission lasting eight days.

Other scientists, most notably genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter, have previously documented the diversity of the sea-bound DNA. But Ross said the kind of deep-sea DNA sampling planned during this year’s Titanic expedition is a “frontier area of ​​research.”

“The microbial community is very likely different from those at shallower depths, and we could detect this,” he said via email. “In addition to finding patterns or species that we expect, new discoveries are very likely.”

For example, the eDNA study could shed light on the biological mechanisms behind the accelerating decline of the Titanic wreckage. “Maybe we’ll find DNA signals from the bacteria that make the rusticles,” Ross wrote.

Ross said the DNA testing should help preserve the wreck site’s ecosystem.

Last year, OceanGate gave way to mission specialists who paid to join the first Titanic expedition, and the company is making similar arrangements for this summer. The training and support allowance for this year is $250,000.

This post OceanGate plans DNA testing during Titanic dives

was original published at “https://www.geekwire.com/2022/oceangate-plans-environmental-dna-survey-during-this-summers-dives-to-titanic-shipwreck-site/”