Bioluminescence 2013 Background

The deep ocean is home to a diverse assemblage of gelatinous zooplankton, a large proportion of which remain undescribed. Although many of these jellies are unfamiliar even to marine biologists, they are key to understanding the overall relationships and evolution of animals. Their contribution to biodiversity is also important for evaluating potential large-scale ecosystem changes, and for determining whether jellies are truly “taking over the world.”

On this five-day expedition, scientists will conduct research based on dives performed by the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts and supplemented by blue-water scuba diving and midwater trawling. ROV Doc Ricketts is capable of collecting minuscule, transparent animals, and will be outfitted with special blue LED lights to image the fluorescence of the animals. Additionally, the blue-water scuba dives and midwater trawling will provide access to shallower and smaller organisms that the ROV cannot observe.

Scientists will use specimens to generate “transcriptomes”— genome-scale pictures of the protein-coding genes that a species produces. These genes let the team address questions about how organisms are related, how they adapt to low oxygen and the deep sea, and how they develop from juveniles to mature adults. Special attention will be paid to ctenophores (comb jellies), siphonophores (tube-like cnidarians), and radiolarians (colonies of single-celled protists).