New horizons in oceanography and genomics were opened up this week with the publication by Craig Venter and colleagues of a pilot study to shotgun clone and sequence microbial genomes filtered from seawater in the Sargasso Sea, off the coast of Bermuda (Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1093857, March 4, 2004).

More than 1.2 million new genes were identified, revealing a level of microbial diversity in seawater that was only previously guessed at. More than 700 of those were new rhodopsin-like photoreceptors.

“At the time of writing the paper, there were roughly 180,000 genes and proteins in Swiss-Prot [the curated protein database],” Venter told The Scientist. “In one paper, we're adding 1.2 or 1.3 million [genes].”

Venter said his group had extended the shotgun method to take it from single genomes to entire environments. “The level of discovery is truly extraordinary,” he said.

The results, published in Science, suggest there must be between...

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