28 November 2013
In Quebec, Tara was fortunate to embark 2 scientific coordinators from the Tara Oceans and Tara Oceans Polar Circle expeditions. Christian Sardet, research director at the CNRS and author of “Plankton Chronicles” is particularly interested in imaging and is responsible for the expedition’s scientific mediation. Patrick Wincker is in charge of the sequencing platform of Génoscope-CEA and coordinates the genomics part of Tara’s research.
What is the scientific coordinator’s job ?
Patrick Wincker: Each coordinator is in charge of a domain, but there is some overlapping. A coordinator can be in charge of a scientific aspect, or a purely operational one, organizing scientific analyses from a certain perspective, for example, bacteria in general.
Christian Sardet: It was Eric Karsenti’s idea not to compartmentalize things. There was some overlapping, but after awhile each coordinator gradually found his domain.
Where did the idea for this new expedition come from ?
CS: We had originally planned to sample in the Arctic during Tara Oceans, but the trip had to be shortened. It was also a good opportunity to combine the last 2 expeditions (Tara Arctic 2006-2008 and Tara Oceans 2009-2012), with atmospheric and ice thickness measurements from the Arctic drift and the sampling during Tara Oceans. This was a good approach, much more exhaustive than if it had been in the framework of Tara Oceans, because we had more time to reflect, and there was more equipment on board.
PW: There is also the fact that the question underlying Tara Oceans was climate change. So it was almost mandatory to pass through the Arctic, where climate change is most visible and where the phenomena are most important. And of course we were more experienced: with Tara Oceans, protocols required some time to set up, and they improved with use. For Tara Oceans Polar Circle, everything was already functioning. And personally, this meant that I could finally get on board!
One of the peculiarities of Tara expeditions is to bring together a large number of disciplines. Why is this interesting?
CS: It was very important to be multidisciplinary, and also very ambitious. Before we began, we spent several days together in one place, and each person presented to the others his views on how to proceed. It’s extremely rare to find a geneticist talking with an oceanographer. This was an extraordinary opportunity to become familiar with the language of different scientific fields.
PW: I think this expedition asked the right questions about each person’s limitations, about the limitations of each method and specialization, about what each person could contribute to the others in trying to understand such a complex phenomenon. We’ll see how far we can go, but in any case, a method of working together definitely emerged.
Can this new way of doing science inspire other projects ?
PW: It’s a trend today, and other projects are beginning to adopt this approach, mixing ecologists, climatologists and in addition, genetics. We sense an emerging orientation.
CS: This is the flip-side to hyper-specialized research. There are things to be gained from hyper-specialization, but we also lose a lot. The interdisciplinary approach is a way to compensate for the limitations of hyper-specialization.
What are the first results from these past 2 expeditions ?
CS: We already know that we have amassed an amazing collection. Obviously, we’ll try to reach some scientific conclusions, but the whole scientific community will be involved with that.
PW: In exploratory sciences, it’s not necessarily those who produced the initial data who will discover the most interesting things, and this has to be accepted. But I think our consortium is multidisciplinary enough to arrive at a number of original viewpoints concerning the results.
Interview by Yann Chavance