FRANCE: Tiny Plankton Creatures Good for Many Reasons

Most people are familiar with tiny plankton creatures as food for marine animals like whales, but French scientists at the National Center for Scientific Research are discovering many other useful things about it, as recorded in a study printed in the Science journal. This is the most comprehensive study done so far on the ocean’s plankton.


Three and a Half Year Study

The scientists have traveled the past three and a half years and taken 35,000 samples of tiny plankton creatures from 210 worldwide areas. These samples were used to find out how the tiny plankton creatures travel, interact, and also what type of genetics they have. For instance, they discovered that the tiny plankton creatures actually are responsible for producing about half the world’s oxygen.


Tiny Plankton Creatures Aid in Making Oxygen, Providing Food

These microscopic plants and animals include creatures such as the larvae of fish, bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms all mixed together that drift around in the seas of the world. According to the research done by the scientists, the tiny plankton creatures make oxygen via photosynthesis as they travel around the Earth’s oceans. They are also a vital food source for many other creatures, including whales and other marine animals.

The scientists were also able to discover that the tiny plankton creatures are very diverse, being made up of more than 40 million previously unknown genes. They make oxygen by taking the CO2 out of the air as they travel and float around in the sea, and turn it into oxygen through organic carbon. This helps thwart problems like global warming because it acts as a barrier to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels.


Special Expedition Gathered the Plankton for Studies

The plankton samples were gathered via a special expedition from Tara Expeditions, aboard the schooner Tara. The ship traveled over 87,000 miles or 140,000 kilometers. During their voyage the ship suffered through being trapped in Arctic ice for 10 days, as well as travel through Mediterranean Sea storms and having to be protected from pirates while on travel in the Gulf of Aden by the French navy.

The group of scientists was able to find out many fascinating things about the tiny plankton creatures like the fact that they have mostly parasitic relationships, with numerous viruses infecting the numerous bacteria. One of the researchers Jennifer Brum, an oceanographer University of Arizona, said that everything is so numerous that one mouthful of ocean water likely contains 200 million viruses and 20 million bacteria.