Flourishing Oceans17 Aug 2022

Minderoo Foundation and Illumina commit up to A$40 million to apply advanced genomics to marine conservation

New partnership will use the power of high throughput sequencing and computational biology to measure and understand marine life in our oceans at a rate that eclipses traditional research methods.

Dr Priscila Goncalves and UWA PhD candidate Matt Heydenrych on board the research vessel Pangaea. Photo Credit: Angela Heley.

Minderoo Foundation and Illumina, Inc. (NASDAQ: ILMN) today announced a partnership worth up to A$40 million that will use the power of genomics to accelerate the scientific understanding of marine systems and help make informed decisions in marine conservation. The 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 scaling eDNA technologies and the application of new computational and artificial intelligence enabled approaches has the potential to revolutionise 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. Minderoo Foundation is committed to returning our oceans to a flourishing state,” Dr Burnell said.

The surveillance of marine ecosystems using environmental DNA — or “eDNA” — can increase the resolution and sensitivity with which we understand biodiversity and can measure change. A cup of seawater can contain millions of pieces of eDNA and cells, providing a snapshot or “fingerprint” of the life forms present — and potentially information on their population size and health. However, in typical seawater samples, more than 98 per cent of the DNA sequences recovered belong to marine microbes. Through this partnership, innovations from the human health industry will be adapted to help sequence information specific to marine vertebrates within these complex marine samples.

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. With only one per cent of the roughly 21,000 species of known marine vertebrate genomes sequenced, one major objective is to create reference genomes from the wealth of samples already in curated museum collections.

As part of the broad research and development partnership, Minderoo Foundation installed one of Illumina’s most advanced high output benchtop DNA sequencers on board its research vessel.

Illumina Vice President and General Manager of Asia Pacific and Japan, Gretchen Weightman, said installing Illumina’s NextSeq 2000 Sequencing System 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,” Ms Weightman said.

The three-year partnership demonstrates a shared commitment to understanding the changing marine ecosystems on which people and national economies depend. The ocean provides food security and livelihoods for billions of people, generates most of the air we breathe and is pivotal in our efforts to counter the effects of a changing climate. However, overfishing, habitat degradation and plastic pollution cause untold damage to ocean ecology and, in turn, human health.

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are 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 research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

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