Aloha ‘OGL in a Box’

A New Kit to Preserve Tough Samples at Sea

How would you preserve the precious DNA of deep-sea corals when you’re on a ship in the remote North Pacific Ocean?

OGL built a custom sampling kit for the science team of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Okeanos Explorer, which will investigate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in August and September. The new kit will help document the biodiversity of protected areas in this remote and enchanting marine region.

The Okeanos Explorer is dedicated to probing unknown regions of the ocean. This summer, the ship will study several of the world’s newest, largest, and most remote marine monuments and sanctuaries, located in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. These protected areas are home to unique geological features and unexplored biodiversity.

Image credit: http://www.papahanaumokuakea.gov/visit/welcome.html
The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is the largest fully protected conservation area in the U.S. The Okeanos Explorer will explore this monument (formerly known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument) as well as the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Image credit: http://www.papahanaumokuakea.gov/visit/welcome.html

The upcoming expedition is doubly special because, for the first time in its history, the Okeanos Explorer will collect biological samples in addition to the data that it traditionally gathers. The collections will focus on deep-sea corals and sponges, giving OGL and other research institutions around the world the first opportunity to access DNA and other types of samples from this remote location.

But it’s tough to preserve DNA from corals! The living part of many corals forms just a paper-thin layer sandwiched between a hard, rock-like skeleton and a blanket of thick mucus that protects the animal’s surface. It’s difficult and tedious to isolate this valuable tissue, especially for a small science team on a busy ship.

OGL solved this problem by devising a handy shipboard kit, based on our experience and recommendations from our colleagues.

The OGL kit packs tools, equipment, sample tubes, and instructions into a sturdy case for shipboard sampling.
The OGL kit packs tools, equipment, sample tubes, and instructions into a sturdy case for shipboard sampling.

Okeanos kit unpacked

We included a DNA preservative, sample tubes filled with tiny beads, and a small machine to do the hard work of shaking the tubes. When the beads rub against the coral, they scrape the soft tissue off the coral skeleton and into the preservative. We also included other tools to help with sampling: clippers, chisels, a hammer, waterproof data sheets, pencils, spare parts, and a laminated instruction card.

Now a job that might otherwise take hours can be done in just a few minutes.

Homogenizer
The OGL kit’s homogenizer machine extracts coral soft tissue by shaking the sample inside bead-filled tubes.

OGL is proud to contribute to the Okeanos Explorer sampling project and excited to follow the expedition. The sampling, species identification, and habitat mapping will help to conserve deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems and improve management of these unique protected areas.

Wish you could come aboard? You can watch live video and status updates from the Okeanos Explorer here.

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