The Science

Group photo of the ship and sub crews and the research teamThree teams are gathered to explore the deep waters of The Bahamas, the ship's crew and the submersible crew, both from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, and a research team brought together from Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, George Mason University, and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum at Sanibel, Florida. Scientists on the research team are collaborating on a number of projects exploring both the present and the past through the natural history of deep-sea organisms and microorganisms. Indespensible to the projects are some remarkable tools and techniques that will help the scientists discover and fit together a few new pieces of evidence into our nexus of knowledge.Final check of the hatch seals before the submersible is launched

In fact, advances in technology are spurring unprecedented growth in the accumulated knowledge of science. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fields of biology. This Smithsonian expedition to the deep waters of the Bahamas exploits the best technology available to advance our understanding of ocean environments, and give us a Josť Leal emerging from the submersible after a successful diveclearer picture of the evolutionary history of gastropods, one of the most commonly found animal groups throughout the oceans. The research team is using a small submersible to carry four people to depths in excess of 2,600 feet where we can observe first hand the habitat of the the slitsnail, one of the largest snails at bathyal depths along the western edge of the Atlantic continental shelf. Dr. Gillevet works to extract DNA

To learn more about these key animals and the habitats they live in, the team of researches will sample water and sediments, and collect specimens at depths ranging from 350-2,600 feet. Extracting DNA from both the snails and microorganisms is a crucial part of the research for a number of studies. By analyzing mollusk DNA, our scientists gain a better understanding of the relationships of slitsnails to other gastropods. In effect, the DNA blueprint of these animals can be read as genealogy. The chemical sequences of the genes reveal patterns of evolutionary history. In addition to mollusk DNA, the genetic material extracted from microorganisms living in the water column gives us a record of the diversity and distribution of microorganisms in marine habitats. This is an essential step to understanding the relationships microorganisms have to the environment.Data from each slitsnail being entered into a database

The tools needed to do this kind of work are only recently available to the field, and already they are common place in microbiology and molecular laboratories. As this website grows, the team will show the results obtained from analyzing the data collected. So please join us as we venture into the deep, and probe the depths of the genetic makeup of organisms from the largest ecosystem on Earth, the Ocean.


Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History