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Viking reports first genetic sequencing of phytoplankton at sea

The Viking expedition team uses Zodiacs for scientific research in Antarctica
Viking achieved the first real-time environmental DNA (eDNA) sequencing of phytoplankton at sea.

With the support of scientists from the University of California San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and J. Craig Venter Institute, Viking Octantis's PCR lab — formerly used for COVID-19  testing— was converted into an advanced facility where cientists contributing to the Genomics at Sea Program (GASP) can monitor the environmental impact on phytoplankton without the need to transport samples to a distant shoreside facility.

This marks a significant milestone in marine research and exploration, as Viking becomes the first travel company to support real-time environmental genetic sequencing capabilities on board its vessels.

This, and participation in GASP, are an extension from Viking’s collaboration with Fjord Phyto, a NASA-funded program by Scripps that enables cruisers to participate in research and public education by sampling polar phytoplankton for genetic population analyses.

Facilitating meaningful scientific work

'Ever since we created Viking expeditions, it has always been our intention to help facilitate meaningful scientific work,' Viking EVP Karine Hagen said. 'As we continue our third year of operating expeditions, we are pleased that we have been able to achieve our goal alongside esteemed scientific partners. By repurposing a technology that kept our guests safe in the height of the pandemic to gain valuable insights into our environment, we are providing a critical research opportunity for all of our future expedition voyages.'

PCR lab conversions

The conversion of the PCR lab aboard Viking Octantis took place earlier this year while the ship was in Antarctica; Viking will regularly host Scripps scientists on the ship this season in the Great Lakes. This summer, the Viking Polaris PCR lab will also be transitioned to support research efforts before both ships return to Antarctica later this year.

Phytoplankton — the planet's 'lungs'

'Oceanic phytoplankton absorbs 40% of the world’s carbon and provides 50% of the world’s atmospheric oxygen. Along with the world’s forests, they are the planet’s "lungs" and every second breath we take comes from phytoplankton,' said Damon Stanwell-Smith, head of science at Viking. 'We are proud to offer our scientific partners the ability to better understand these organisms that play a critical role in the Earth’s carbon cycle in these remote regions.'