A new partnership between San Diego’s Illumina and an Australian foundation will use the power of high-throughput genomic sequencing to better measure, understand and conserve marine life.
Australia’s Minderoo Foundation and Illumina, Inc. (NASDAQ: ILMN), announced in late August a $27.8 million partnership that will utilize genomics to accelerate scientific understanding of marine systems – and help marine conservationists make informed decisions.
Illumina said in a press release that the three-year partnership demonstrates a “shared commitment to conserving marine biodiversity and understanding the changing marine ecosystems on which people and national economies depend.”
Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, Minderoo Foundation has six international offices and more than 90 employees. Andrew Forrest, one of Australia’s richest men, is chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, the publicly listed company he founded in 2003 that is one of the world’s main suppliers of iron ore.
Minderoo Foundation’s director of OceanOmics, Dr. Steve Burnell, said that scaling environmental DNA (eDNA) technologies and applying new computational and artificial-intelligence-enabled approaches have the potential to “revolutionize our understanding” of life in the ocean – and “our ability to protect it.”
“By rapidly identifying species that may be endangered, invasive, or otherwise poorly understood, the research will contribute data and information to support timely and impactful marine biodiversity conservation,” Burnell said. “Minderoo Foundation is committed to returning our oceans to a flourishing state.”
Surveillance of marine ecosystems using eDNA can increase the resolution and sensitivity with which scientists understand biodiversity and can measure change. A cup of seawater can contain millions of pieces of eDNA and cells, providing a snapshot of the life forms present and, potentially, information on their population size and health.
However, in typical seawater samples, more than 98% of the DNA sequences recovered belong to marine microbes. Through this partnership, innovations from the human health industry will be adapted to help enrich these complex marine samples for sequence information specific to marine vertebrates.
Identifying the Unknown
The partners will also engage in research and development projects to create high-throughput genome sequences from known marine vertebrates to enable identification of unknown eDNA sequences from seawater.
Because only 1% of the roughly 21,000 known species of marine vertebrate genomes have been sequenced, one major objective is to create reference genomes from the wealth of samples already held in museum collections.
As part of this broad research and development partnership, Minderoo Foundation installed a NextSeq 2000 Sequencing System, one of Illumina’s most advanced high-throughput benchtop DNA sequencers, aboard its research vessel.
Results in Hours
Illumina Head of Global Commercial Strategy & General Manager of Asia Pacific and Japan Gretchen Weightman said installing the NextSeq 2000 directly onto Minderoo’s research vessel has allowed the partners to demonstrate, for the first time, truly high-throughput sequencing at sea, enabling near real-time production of marine genetic information, from seawater samples to high-quality sequencing data, in a matter of hours.
“Backed by Illumina’s leading technologies, researchers will gather crucial data and gain a greater understanding of the significant implications for the way the world’s oceans are managed, considering commercial fishing and protection requirements,” Weightman said.
The Minderoo Foundation’s name comes from Minderoo Station, the Forrest family homestead in the Pilbara region of Western Australia where Andrew Forrest grew up. Minderoo is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘clean water.’
Today, one of Australasia’s largest philanthropic organizations, with an endowment of more than $2 billion, Minderoo Foundation’s key initiatives range from eliminating childhood cancer and improving early childhood education to ending modern slavery, global overfishing and plastics pollution.
The foundation supports and funds early-stage innovation and has teamed with more than 280 organizations and companies like Illumina to develop major environmental programs and partnerships throughout Australia and Asia.
CEO: Francis deSouza
REVENUE: $4.5 billion (2021)
STOCK: ILMN (NASDAQ)
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
NOTABLE: Illumina is the world’s leading genomic sequencing company.
CO-FOUNDERS: Andrew and Nicola Forrest
ENDOWMENT: More than AUD$2 billion
HEADQUARTERS: Western Australia
NOTABLE: Minderoo’s “Walk Free” project is the world’s most comprehensive evidence-based index of global modern slavery, documenting the scale of the problem and enabling robust solutions at the country level for the estimated 40 million people living in modern slavery today.