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OceanoScientific Coral Reefs
Expedition Corsica 2024

Wednesday 17 July 2024

BET WON: First successful DNA sequencing!

Wednesday 17 July will go down as a major milestone for the OceanoScientific association. A huge success! It was on that morning, in the heart of summer, between the thick walls of the Natural History Museum of Nîmes (1895 - France), home to the DNA Learning Center run by Professor Christian Siatka, a renowned geneticist and Professor at the University of Nîmes, Vice-President of OceanoScientific and Scientific Director of the OceanoScientific Coral Reef Expeditions, that the first DNA sequencing of tiny sponge samples collected during the OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Expedition Corsica 2024 was carried out. Clara Bayol, a future biology engineer in her final internship at OceanoScientific, carried out the entire DNA extraction procedure herself, under the guidance of Professor Siatka. The result is the culmination of more than four years' persistence in making progress along a path that generated so much criticism and scorn from many scientists and observers on the universal theme prior to any innovation: "You will never make it, it's impossible!"


First result: a total of 10 micrograms of DNA in the very first sample. And even more in subsequent samples. "It's a very good quantity of DNA, very usable!" says Professor Christian Siatka with a smile, as Clara Bayol looks on. Photo OceanoScientific

"I have been dreaming about this moment for over four years now", explains Yvan Griboval, the driving force behind the REFRACOR 2030 project to preserve the genetic data of France's reef heritage, in particular with a view to virtuously exploiting the molecules of interest in marine sponges. "To offer young people the opportunity to build a professional career in the fields of Health, Well-being and Environmental Services, in line with the emergence of new professions in the Blue Economy through the use of bioinformatics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)"


"The project to build up the first genetic database of marine organisms by implementing totally autonomous and CO2-free sailing expeditions in open maritime areas - excluding Marine Parks and Marine Protected Areas - has now been proven to be realistic. This will be both an opportunity to supply students with DNA sequences to search for molecules of interest, and to safeguard genetic data from marine organisms threatened by the Sixth Extinction for the benefit of fundamental research".


Professor Christian Siatka added: "The NanodropTM assay steps enabled us to quantify the extracted DNA and assess its purity. The excellent extraction results obtained enable us to carry out the next sequencing steps on NanoporeTM".


The tiny samples of twelve different species of marine sponges collected as part of the OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Expedition Corsica 2024 are presented by Yvan Griboval and Clara Bayol to Professor Christian Siatka (in the middle) at the DNA Learning Center of Nîmes (France). Photo OceanoScientific


Before starting to sequence the sponge samples, Professor Christian Siatka explains to Clara Bayol the rigorous procedure for extracting DNA under the best possible conditions, with the greatest chance of success. Photo OceanoScientific


In front of the camera of Aurore Partouche, who is recording the video that will document this crucial stage of the REFRACOR 2030 Project and feed the social networks, Clara Bayol collects microscopic parcels of a sponge sample in preparation for DNA extraction. Photo OceanoScientific


Crucial centrifugation step to purify DNA. Professor Christian Siatka performs the operation under the watchful eye of Clara Bayol. Photo OceanoScientific 


Now that the purification columns containing the fixed DNA have been cleaned, we know whether the sponge's DNA is accessible. Or not... Photo OceanoScientific 


MinIONTM (Oxford Nanopore Technologies) screen at the end of the first long-read sequencing of a sponge genome, displaying over 53 million nucleotides analyzed. Photo Christian Siatka - DNA Learning Center

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Great success for the OceanoScientific Coral Reefs

Corsica Expedition 2024

The OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Corsica Expedition 2024 took place in southern Corsica from 25 May to 4 June in the Gulf of Porto-Vecchio, outside the Bonifacio Marine Park, with the Lagoon 570 catamaran LOVE THE OCEAN and the Suzuki-powered Vanguard RIB. This was the first test phase of the REssources FRAnçaises CORalliennes - REFRACOR 2030 project, mentioned in our Newsletters of 10 and 17 April. The result is perfectly in line with the ambitious objectives: twelve different species of sponges were collected and their 32 small samples were conditioned to extract the DNA of these marine organisms with multiple properties, probably rich in molecules of interest for Health and Wellbeing. This first underwater OceanoScientific Expedition was made possible by the kind support of Dive Lyon, a specialist Tek diving shop run by Rémi Prat, and Bonifacio Plongée, the leading diving club in southern Corsica, run by the friendly Jordi Rossi.

The OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Corsica Expedition 2024 in 58 seconds:


Dream Team: the three professional divers: Justine Camus (Professional Diver / Expedition Coordinator), Michèle Leduc (Professional Scientific Diver / Head of the Hyperbaric Operations), Manon Gomez y Gimenez (Professional Scientific Diver) at the end of their first day of collection on board the LOVE THE OCEAN oceanographic logistic platform with the very first sponge samples collected. Photo OceanoScientific


It is 6.00 am and the sun is rising over the Gulf of Porto-Vecchio. On board the catamaran LOVE THE OCEAN, the professional diving team is getting ready for the dives. Photo OceanoScientific


The exploration team, from left to right: Manon Gomez y Gimenez (Professional Scientific Diver), Clara Bayol (Biological Engineer / Head of Surface Safety), Michèle Leduc (Professional Scientific Diver / Head of Hyperbaric Operations) and Justine Camus (Professional Diver / Expedition Coordinator). Photo OceanoScientific


The Vanguard – Suzuki RIB is on the dive zone, from left to right: Justine Camus, Manon Gomez y Gimenez and Michèle Leduc are getting ready to dive to depths of four to eleven meters. Photo OceanoScientific


The first task of the scientific divers is to identify an individual from which a small sample will (perhaps) be taken without harming the marine organism, since it will reconstitute itself, like a hair or a nail growing back on a human being. Here Justine Camus on the wreck of the cement ship PINELLA near the Pecorella rock. Photo OceanoScientific


Discovering a marine sponge, sometimes hundreds (thousands? millions?) of years old, is always a source of wonder. This is a Crambe crambe, a species of Orange-Red Encrusting Sponge from the Crambeidae family. Photo OceanoScientific


While Justine films the scientists' work, Manon identifies the species from which a small sample will be taken and Michèle takes photos of the individual to add to the description of the sample. Depth and GPS position complete the information about the collection. Photo OceanoScientific


Once the small sample has been taken, it is packed in a Ziploc bag to be taken back on board LOVE THE OCEAN so that Clara Bayol can immediately pack it and preserve it in a suitable liquid. Photo OceanoScientific


Once the small sample has been taken, it is packed in a Ziploc bag to be taken back on board LOVE THE OCEAN so that Clara Bayol can immediately pack it and preserve it in a suitable liquid. Photo OceanoScientific


On board LOVE THE OCEAN, in the cabin used for scientific purposes, Clara Bayol (Biological Engineer) conditions the small samples of sponges by preserving them in a liquid that does not risk altering their DNA according to the protocol recommended by (Geneticist) Professor Christian Siatka. Photo OceanoScientific


Each sponge sample is preserved in a special tube of 110 mm long and 30 mm diameter, in a liquid that prevents any alteration of the DNA of the individual from which the sample was taken. Photo OceanoScientific 


Back at the OceanoScientific headquarters, the 32 samples are ready to be dispatched to : Professor Christian Siatka (DNA Learning Center in Nîmes), to enable the production of sequencing kits for secondary school pupils; Éric Ginoux, Director of Life & Soft, for deep DNA sequencing using the most efficient scientific equipment to date, in order to preserve in an unprecedented database the genetic data of these marine organisms threatened by the Sixth Extinction. Photo OceanoScientific

Wednesday 29 May 2024

OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Corsica Expedition 2024

The OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Corsica Expedition 2024, carried out with the Lagoon 570 catamaran LOVE THE OCEAN and the Suzuki-powered Vanguard RIB, will start Thursday 30 May 2024 its first professional dives led by Justine Camus (OceanoScientific) in the most accessible and least sensitive areas of the Bonifacio Marine Park. This is the culmination of four intensive years spent getting this highly innovative project off the ground. Above all, it marks the start of the first test phase of the REssources FRAnçaises CORalliennes - REFRACOR 2030 project, mentioned in our Newsletters of 10 and 17 April. We are therefore committed to this crusade to have the French coral reefs recognized as a national heritage to be preserved, developed and exploited virtuously for the benefit of French youth and businesses of all sizes, from fledgling start-ups to large industrial groups. We see this as a matter of national sovereignty. And we have come to Corsica to scientifically observe the biodiversity of the Bonifacio Marine Park, in strict compliance with local regulations.


Encounter with a group of blue and white dolphins at sunrise on the way from Port Saint Louis du Rhône, our technical base, to southern Corsica. The marine biodiversity of the Mediterranean is extremely rich. Photo OceanoScientific 

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Why are we interested in sponges?

It has been nearly five years since the OceanoScientific association focused its scientific exploratory activities on the French coral reefs. It was more than three years ago that the decision was taken to focus on marine sponges. The first multicellular animals to appear on the planet 760 million years ago, sponges contain molecules of interest for Health (Human - Animal), Well-being (Dermatology - Cosmetology - Nutrition) and Environmental Services (Agriculture - Aquaculture - Depollution). Not so long ago, exploiting these treasures for Humanity meant harvesting large numbers of live animals. So, it seemed inconceivable to us to encourage the plundering of these treasures by demonstrating the potential benefits of these marine organisms for Humanity. Until we met Professor Christian Siatka, Director of the Genotyping and Genomics platform at the DNA Learning Center in Nîmes, who has since become Vice-President of the OceanoScientific association and Scientific Director of the OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Expeditions. Before the end of May, we will (finally!) be starting the first of the OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Expeditions 2023-2030 with our Lagoon 570 LOVE THE OCEAN.


Marine sponges contain molecules of interest for Health (Human - Animal), Well-being (Dermatology - Cosmetology - Nutrition) and Environmental Services (Agriculture - Aquaculture - Depollution). Caribbean sponges - Photo Thierry Pérez, CNRS IMBE Research Director - Endoume Marine Station (Marseille - France)

Professor Christian Siatka pointed us in the direction of genetics. Before him, Professor Thierry Pérez, CNRS Research Director at the Institut Méditerranéen de Biodiversité et d'Écologie Marine - IMBE based at the Endoume Marine Station (Marseille - France), shared his passion for sponges with us, as he tirelessly travels the world to learn more about these "particular" benthic sessile animals that populate coral reefs and are crucial factors in the good health of the surrounding biodiversity.


Professor Christian Siatka is now in the best position to explain why we are so passionately interested in sponges: "Marine sponges are key organisms in marine ecosystems and are among the oldest and most primitive forms of animal life on Earth. Indeed, they colonized the oceans around 760 million years ago. They are fascinating not only for their role in filtering water, but also as a source of impressive microbial diversity, offering a reservoir for bioprospecting. Their complex microbiome is made up of a multitude of functioning taxonomic units, each playing a specific ecological role and contributing to the health and survival of the host."


"Next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies have revolutionized our ability to analyze these microbial communities, producing detailed genetic data that reveals valuable information about the adaptation and function of these organisms. At the same time, the application of artificial intelligence (AI) to this data has enabled further exploration, identifying rare genetic sequences and establishing complex phylogenetic links, opening up new perspectives in biomedical and biotechnological research. These advances also have implications for the resilience of marine ecosystems facing environmental change and for the conservation of marine biodiversity."


"Ultimately, the combination of these advanced technologies illustrates the immense potential of marine ecosystems and promises to catalyze significant progress in marine biotechnology. This is clearly a sustainable source of new jobs for young people in the short and medium term."


"The detailed study of the microbiome of marine sponges reveals not only the diversity of bacterial species present, but also the functional richness of these communities. Metagenomic and metabolomic studies have shown that sponge microbiota produces a range of secondary metabolites, some of which possess antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties (Pita and al., 2018)."


"These metabolites are not only promising candidates for pharmaceutical applications but are also essential for the survival and health of the sponge, suggesting an evolved symbiosis for defense against pathogens and inter-species competition."


Scientists have inventoried around eight thousand species of sponges, but they reckon that there are probably twice,

three times or even more than that number since very deep missions have enabled the discovery of sponges at depths

of over two thousand meters. Caribbean sponges - Photo Thierry Pérez, CNRS IMBE Research Director - Endoume Marine Station (Marseille - France)

"The recent revolution in next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies has made it possible to generate massive amounts of genetic data from sponges and their microbial communities."


"Long-read and short-read NGS platforms offer unprecedented resolution of genetic profiles, revealing not only the identity of the species present, but also their potentiated biological functioning (Taylor et al., 2013)."


"Bioinformatic analysis of these large datasets has shed light on the specific adaptation of sponge microbiota to their environment and host, and the metabolic strategies they employ to thrive in diverse marine habitats (Fan and al., 2012)."


"The extent of the data produced by next-generation sequencing creates challenges in terms of data storage, management and analysis. This is where bioinformatics tools become indispensable. They make it possible to manage large databases and apply data processing algorithms to annotate sequences and predict their function (Quince and al., 2017)."


"The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in marine studies is a major breakthrough, particularly in the complex analysis of sequencing. Machine learning algorithms, such as convolutional neural networks and deep learning, can process and interpret these large amounts of sequencing data with unprecedented accuracy and speed."


"The application of these AI tools has enabled complex phylogenetic relations to be revealed, rare genetic sequences to be identified and metabolic functions to be predicted, opening up new paths for the characterization of new microbial species and the discovery of bioactive compounds (Moitinho-Silva and al., 2017)."


"The integration of AI and advanced next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies in the study of marine sponges is a major breakthrough for science. It makes it possible to decrypt the complexity of microbial communities, establish precise phylogenetic maps and discover genes with potential therapeutic applications".


In conclusion, scientific opportunities such as these open new career paths, both in terms of research and exploitation. These are the emerging professions of the Blue Economy, and we want to encourage young secondary school students to get involved in them at a time when they must make career choices in accordance with the Parcoursup system (a French platform for admission to superior education).


This will be the theme of the second edition of the Tour MER & MÉTIERS - Revealing the vocations of Tomorrow, scheduled for the first trimester of the 2024-2025 school year, decreed the Year of the Sea by the President of France to lead up to the third United Nations Ocean Conference - UNOC Nice 25, to be held in France in city of the Baie des Anges from 5 to 15 June 2025.


The first OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Expedition in the 2023-2030 cycle will take the crew of the LOVE THE OCEAN oceanographic logistics platform to the south of Corsica. It will sail in total autonomy, without CO2 emission, although its crew will take it to areas accessible to all. Mediterranean sponges - Photo Thierry Pérez, CNRS IMBE Research Director - Endoume Marine Station (Marseille - France)

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Sponges at the service of Humanity

In our Newsletter from the 10 April, we talked about France's immense coral reef heritage, covering 58,000 square kilometers and scattered across the tropical strip of the three oceans: the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic, not forgetting the Mediterranean and the Caribbean Seas. We have also shown that this fantastic national wealth is not being exploited as it should logically be, particularly for the benefit of French youth and local entrepreneurs. We also explained that today these biological resources are exploited by foreign manufacturers (Blasiak and al. 2018), without the sites of origin of the marine organisms that generate the molecules of interest for use in Health, Well-being and Environmental Services benefiting from the slightest euro made by these operators under foreign flags. We are at the initiative of the Ressources FRAnçaises CORalliennes - REFRACOR 2030 project (French Corallian Resources), the fruit of more than three years' work. We are presenting a simple and effective approach to NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY that combines: virtuous exploitation, preservation of biodiversity and real sharing of benefits. Everything that the Nagoya Protocol is supposed to implement, without any success. At least not in France. Explanation to follow...


Thanks to genetics, without killing or harming the sponges that appeared on Earth 650 million or even 750 million years ago, it will be possible to extract precious molecules of interest for the benefit of Humanity: Health, Well-being and Environmental Services. Photo Thierry Pérez, Research Director CNRS IMBE - Endoume Marine Station (Marseille - France)

Designer of the REFRACOR 2030 project, Yvan Griboval explains: "When I returned from the OceanoScientific Around the World Expedition 2026-2017, which was the first campaign to collect scientific data at the Air-Sea interface - under sail and single-handed - in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current under the three great continental capes, I was sharing my experience at conferences or in front of primary school pupils (CM1-CM2) and I realized that talking about the data collected, which had no commercial value, did absolutely nothing to engage my listeners. It didn't encourage them to preserve the Ocean. So I was completely missing the mark. Simply because in general what has no value: commercial, emotional, personal..., does not justify being respected or preserved. Because it's worthless. Why the hell had I gone so far, at the risk of my life, to collect this physico-chemical data, although of high quality, in which only a small group of scientists had any interest. A small interest, since they didn't spend any money to obtain it..."


"Thus, I researched to find out what could be so valuable in the Ocean that it would generate enough interest among the general public to make them want to protect it. Because my approach was, and remains, to mobilize human beings to preserve the sea and its biodiversity. Without going very far, the scientific literature is abundant, so I read up on coral reefs. There is no doubt that the organisms that nestle there conceal almost infinite resources for uses that benefit Humanity. All the scientists consulted, including, in priority, Denis Allemand, Scientific Director of the Monaco Scientific Centre, renowned for studying and breeding corals since the late 80s, confirmed the rightness of this choice."


"It was still necessary to decide to focus on a particular marine organism, given the immense wealth of biodiversity found in these coral reef sites. Scientists agree that they contain around 25% of the marine organisms in the Ocean, which itself represents 71% of the Planet. The first instinct is to take an interest in coral. Until, on 10 February 2022, a conversation in Brest on the sidelines of the One Ocean Summit with the eminent biologist Gilles Bœuf - with whom I had first spoken in his office when he was President of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle - turned me definitively towards sponges: "Extraordinary animals that deserve to be studied because they can make a huge contribution to human beings", according to Gilles. Then a meeting with Thierry Pérez, Research Director of CNRS IMBE at the Endoume Marine Station (Marseille - France) and surely the greatest French spongiologist working today, himself a disciple of Jean Vacelet, convinced me to concentrate the efforts of the OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Expeditions and the REFRACOR 2030 Project on the theme of sponges."


"But as I investigated the subject further, I discovered that to extract these precious molecules, these active ingredients for human health, it was necessary to have access to immense quantities of living organisms. The proof of this was the discovery in 1969 by Professor Kenneth L. Rinehart (1929-2005) of the University of Illinois (USA) that an extract of an ascidian (Ecteinascidia tubinata) from the Caribbean Sea contained active anti-cancer molecules (Ecteinascidin 743). This molecule was purified in 1984 at the University of Illinois. But its possible use as an anti-cancer agent was not published until 1996 by Professor Elias James Corey, a chemist at Harvard University (USA) and winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The patent for this molecule, now marketed by the Spanish company PharmaMar, was filed by Harvard. But let's get back to basics: it was necessary to kill a ton of ascidians to obtain one gram of active ingredient. A clinical trial requires at least five grams!"


"In short, I was astonished to discover that highlighting the molecular richness of marine organisms in coral reefs could only encourage the plundering and destruction of these precious reefs, and the impoverishment of their fantastic biodiversity. Quite the opposite of my initial approach!"


"So many sleepless nights going over this paradox... Until I met Professor Christian Siatka, a geneticist who has since become Vice-President of the OceanoScientific association and Scientific Director of the OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Expeditions. "If I take a hair or a piece of fingernail from you, I won't hurt you and I will get your DNA" he explained quite simply. "And if you do the same with tiny pieces of sponge, you will get their DNA. It will be possible to search for molecules of interest using bioinformatic without needing to kill or hurt the sponge, or even go back and disturb it on its reef."


"Under these conditions, it became possible to enhance France's reef heritage by focusing on sponges, reputed for their exceptional properties. Above all, it was also possible to preserve the precious genetic data of marine organisms threatened by the Sixth Extinction, itself accelerating as a result of climate change. This is how the foundations of the REFRACOR 2030 project were laid."


Today, French coral reefs are a (magical!) natural spectacle for tourists and a field of exploration for fundamental scientific research. They are also an infinite reserve of molecules of interest for the use of human beings. A national heritage worth preserving. Photo Thierry Pérez, Research Director CNRS IMBE - Endoume Marine Station (Marseille - France)

We have identified three main objectives for the REFRACOR 2030 project:                     


First objective: To preserve the fantastic heritage of the French Corallian Resources of the: Mediterranean Sea - Atlantic Ocean / Caribbean Sea - Indian Ocean - Pacific Ocean and to enable their virtuous use thanks to (digital) genetic processing that neither kills nor harms marine organisms. 


Second objective: To guarantee the territory of origin of the samples taken a significant profit generated by the exploitation of Industrial Property rights - including the filing of patents for enhanced protection - relating to the use of molecules of interest derived from marine organisms. To achieve this, we need to establish perfect traceability of the samples, and then of the digital data derived from them. Blockchain enables us to do this.


Third objective: To enable the creation of new jobs in the Blue Economy through the (digital) genetic processing of French coral resources for the benefit of secondary school pupils and young students up to Bachelor, with priority given to those from the sites where the samples of marine organisms are taken. For example, giving priority to training young Guadeloupeans in genetics applied to marine organisms in the Guadeloupe National Park, in collaboration with local educational establishments. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will help to build a bridge between the work of students on the one hand and the French world of start-ups and the industries concerned on the other. 


In the medium term, the aim is to finalize the text of a regulatory framework applicable to ALL French coral resources and to present it to the international community as a founding document for future international regulations to reinforce the Nagoya Protocol, in order to preserve both living organisms and the (digital) genetic data derived from them. A major innovation!


In the longer term, the aim is to help finance the creation of Marine Protected Areas and National Nature Reserves by offsetting the reduction in revenue from tourism on coral reefs - which threatens their biodiversity - with financial profits guaranteed by the exploitation of Industrial Property rights relating to the use of molecules of interest derived from marine organisms on the sites concerned.

PURPOSE OF THE REFRACOR 2030 PROJECT                         


In summary, the aim of the REFRACOR 2030 national sovereignty project is to : Effectively protect and virtuously valorize the heritage of France's fantastic underwater resources; Create sectors of excellence for young people in long-term collaboration with our Overseas Territories; Develop the Blue Economy of Health, Well-being and Environmental Services in line with the Objective 7 of France 2030: "Produce at least 20 biomedicines in France, in particular against cancers, rare diseases and chronic diseases, including those linked to age".


From now on, we are carrying out the test phase of the REFRACOR 2030 Project as part of the OceanoScientific Coral Reefs Expeditions, sailing in total autonomy without CO2 emission with our Lagoon 570 LOVE THE OCEAN, fully equipped as an oceanographic research platform, thanks to the support of our partners and patrons, as well as manufacturers who have understood the benefits of exploiting coral reef resources in a virtuous way to preserve biodiversity. It is an approach that is in the interests of the people living on the coral reef sites concerned, who will be the first guardians of this national treasure!


At the same time, we are presenting to the French government a draft convention to preserve our national reef heritage. We hope that it will be taken up by all the countries meeting within the United Nations. The timing is perfect: their representatives will be in Nice from 5 to 15 June 2025 at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron as part of the third UN Ocean Conference - UNOC Nice 25...

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