IODP Expedition 347 in the Baltic Sea: pre-cruise preparations in Copenhagen

This is the first post in my blog covering Expedition 347 of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP): "Baltic Sea Paleoenvironment", an expedition that will carry out scientific drilling into the Baltic seafloor for the first time ever. For my co-blogger (Andrea Torti) and I this is our first experience on an IODP research cruise. We're looking forward to sharing our experiences and ideas with readers over the course of our two months at sea.

This week we are in Copenhagen for three days of pre-cruise meetings with the other 15 members of the offshore scientific party before we board the Greatship Manisha on the weekend. We will start work within hours of boarding the ship, so it's important that we have a few days to discuss procedures and methods and make sure we're all on the same page before we begin. This is especially relevant with respect to 24-hour operation on board the ship - once we split up into two 12-hour shifts there won't be further opportunities for the scientific party to have thorough discussions with everyone present.

Diversity of scientific expertise
The first thing that strikes me about this project is the great diversity of scientific expertise involved. Obtaining sediment samples from the Baltic deep subsurface is an expensive and rare operation, so to make the most of this expedition the organizers have aimed to involve as many different scientific specialties as possible. The result is a complex multidisciplinary project involving microbiologists, geochemists, and geologists. In addition to the offshore participants there are onshore scientists who will receive samples collected by the offshore scientists according to their instructions. Andrea and I will mostly be keeping you informed about our own field of research (microbiology) but will try to include interesting snippets of information from other fields as we learn about them from our fellow scientists.

How do microbes adapt to very low energy?
My project is to obtain metagenomes from the deep Baltic subsurface. A metagenome is a collection of the various genomes of the microorganisms that inhabit the sediment. A genome is the sum of an organism's inherited information, and through analysis of the genes encoded in a genome we can learn a lot about an organism's function.

I plan to take sediment samples on board the ship and freeze them, then extract DNA from them once I get back to Aarhus. I will then have the DNA sequenced. The DNA sequence data will be in the form of many short fragments of DNA, but by finding overlapping sequences on different fragments I will stitch the short fragments together into long sections or possibly even complete genomes of deep subsurface microbes. From their DNA I can determine the genes that these microbes carry and thereby infer what functions these microbes perform in the sediment. I am particularly interested in learning how microbes are adapted to the conditions of extreme energy limitation found in the deep subsurface. I have several hypotheses about this, and the metagenomic data will reveal whether or not these hypotheses are correct.

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