Global Ocean Sampling Expedition (GOS)


In 2004, after a successful pilot project of shotgun metagenomics sequencing at the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series site, J. Craig Venter, PhD, and a Venter Institute team launched the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) Expedition. Inspired by 19th Century sea voyages like Darwin's on the H.M.S. Beagle and Captain George Nares on the H.M.S. Challenger, The Sorcerer II circumnavigated the globe for more than two years, covering a staggering 32,000 nautical miles, visiting 23 different countries and island groups on four continents.

The Sorcerer II circumnavigated the globe for more than two years, covering a staggering 32,000 nautical miles, visiting 23 different countries and island groups on four continents.

Millions of new genes and nearly 1000 genomes for uncultivated lineages of microbes, as well as a more comprehensive understanding of marine microbiology through community datamining resulted from this historic project. Collaborative efforts and subsequent expeditions to the inland seas and lakes of Europe, Antarctica, and the Amazon River have greatly increased the known diversity of ecosystems and microbial diversity.

Global analyses of the results have provided insight into what environmental variables most dictate microbial diversity and function in a lineage-specific basis. Numerous new lineages of viruses for both bacteria and eukaryotes have been identified. The most recent expeditions, conducted in 2017, systematically examined the microbes that colonize plastic pollution in the marine environment. Collaborative analyses of both local and global aspects of the GOS expedition data are ongoing and open to new partners.

Past Voyages

Sorcerer II Circumnavigation 2004-2006

In 2004, Dr. Venter and his team at JCVI launched the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) Expedition. Inspired by 19th Century sea voyages like Darwin's on the H.M.S. Beagle and Captain George Nares on the H.M.S. Challenger, The Sorcerer II circumnavigated the globe for more than two years, covering a staggering 32,000 nautical miles, visiting 23 different countries and island groups on four continents. Funding for this voyage of the Sorcerer II came from the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation (now JCVI), the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

After a successful pilot project in the Sargasso Sea in 2003, Dr. Venter and his Expedition team set out to evaluate the microbial diversity in the world's oceans using the tools and techniques developed to sequence the human and other genomes. With a better understanding of marine microbial biodiversity, scientists will be able to understand how ecosystems function and to discover new genes of ecological and evolutionary importance. The Sorcerer II Expedition finished its circumnavigation in 2006 and Venter Institute scientists and collaborators published the results from the first phase of the Expedition in PLoS Biology in March 2007.

This publication ushered in a new era in genomics. The GOS data represent the largest metagenomic dataset ever put into the public domain with more than 7.7 million sequences or 6.3 billion base pairs of DNA. The sheer size and complexity of this dataset has necessitated new tools and infrastructure to allow researchers worldwide access and analysis capabilities. The Community Cyberinfrastructure for Advanced Marine Microbial Ecology Research and Analysis (CAMERA) is an online database and high-speed computational resource developed with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in a collaborative effort between UCSD's Division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and JCVI. This first glimpse into the gene, protein and protein family world of microbes has shattered long held notions about evolution, function, and diversity.

Expedition 2007-2008

When the first third of the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition was published, Dr. Venter and his team realized (as stunning and extensive as these results were — six million new genes and thousands of new protein families) they had only scratched the surface of the microbial diversity in the oceans. The team decided to continue their journey but this time focusing on diverse and in some cases, extreme environments. From surface waters to deep sea thermal vents, high saline ponds and polar ice, JCVI scientists continued to add to the microbial "earth catalogue" in 2007 and 2008.

The Sorcerer II set sail in December 2006 from Virginia heading through the Chesapeake Bay, and then south along the East Coast of the United States. After a transit through the Panama Canal, the vessel headed north through Central American waters and on to Mexico sampling in the Sea of Cortez for an extensive time. The Expedition continued up the West Coast of the U.S. into Alaska. While in Alaska the Sorcerer II took samples in Glacier Bay National Park including water taken from melting glaciers there. After this Sorcerer headed south again to her home port of San Diego.

Throughout 2008, the Sorcerer II conducted extensive sampling in the waters off San Diego and the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. This was done to ensure that both coasts of the US had adequate samples taken. Much of this sampling was done onboard Sorcerer II but several excursions were conducted by JCVI scientists onboard other collaborators' vessels including those done with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Washington, Oregon Health and Science University, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations.

Several JCVI researchers also participated in deep sea sampling cruises as part of expeditions onboard the R/V Atlantis which carries the deep-sea submersible, Alvin. These expeditions were done in collaboration with scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Delaware, and other institutions The JCVI scientists were interested in sampling the underwater geysers in the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez to capture the viruses living in these extreme conditions.

JCVI scientists also conducted several sampling trips to Antarctica where they sampled via collaborator vessels along the route to Antarctica, and in several stratified lakes to understand the microbial diversity in these harsh polar conditions. These are the first metagenomic/metaproteomic studies conducted in such low temperature extremes.

The J. Robert Beyster and Life Technologies Foundation 2009-2010 Research Voyage of the Sorcerer II Expedition

Having successfully completed a global circumnavigation, conducted ongoing sampling in waters off California and the west coast of the United States, and carried out sampling with other collaborators in extreme conditions such as Antarctica and deep-sea ocean vents, the research vessel Sorcerer II and Dr. Venter embarked on the waters of Europe. This two-year leg of the Sorcerer II Expedition, funded by generous donations from the Beyster Family Foundation Fund of The San Diego Foundation and Life Technologies Foundation, explored the microbial life in the waters of the Baltic, Mediterranean, and Black Seas. These are scientifically important because they are among the world's largest seas isolated from the major oceans.

Sampling Route

The Sorcerer II left her home port of San Diego, California on March 19, 2009 heading south along the coast of Mexico, taking a 200 to 400 liters water sample approximately every 200 miles, filtered it through progressively smaller filters to capture the various sized organisms, and then freeze the filters with the captured microorganisms for shipment back to the JCVI labs in Rockville, MD or San Diego, CA where the sequencing and analysis is done. The team visited the following countries: England, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, and other Baltic countries, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Bulgaria.

Collaborative Agreements

Data Sharing

Scientific results from the Sorcerer II expedition have the potential to substantially advance the world's understanding of microbial communities, including the vital role that microorganisms play in the healthy functioning of natural ecosystems. For this reason, genomic sequencing data from the expedition will be publicly available to the international research and educational communities.

The genomic analysis of microbial communities may be particularly useful to the countries in which samples are taken. For example, these data may enhance a country's ability to monitor and protect its biodiversity. After these data are published, researchers in a given country may wish to pursue further study of microbes of particular scientific interest or potential commercial value.

The Venter Institute is a not-for-profit basic science research institute. Results from the microbial sampling and genomic sequencing research will be published in the scientific literature in collaboration with in-country scientists involved in the program. The data will be deposited in the publicly available GenBank or through a new web-based database established specifically for environmental genomics data. They will be publicly available to any scientist worldwide.

Consistent with national laws and applicable international treaties, and under the guidance of the U.S. Department of State, the Venter Institute obtains permits for research and sampling from every country in which samples will be taken. Scientific collaboration, education and training are an important part of the Sorcerer II Expedition as the vessel travels around the globe. In many countries, the Venter Institute has also signed memoranda of understanding describing additional components of the collaboration.


The Venter Institute develops cooperative relationships with leading international researchers located in each sampling region. All required research permits are obtained before sampling begins. In addition, the Venter Institute offers to develop memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with all countries where sampling takes place.

These memoranda typically include five fundamental principles of the Sorcerer II expedition:

  1. The purpose of the Expedition is to advance scientific knowledge of microbial biodiversity and humankind's basic understanding of oceanic biology, yielding insights into the complex interplay between groups of microorganisms that may affect environmental processes.
  2. Genomic sequence data from the study will be publicly available to scientists worldwide.
  3. No intellectual property rights will be sought by the Venter Institute on these genomic sequence data.
  4. The Venter Institute and its research collaborators will coauthor one (or more) scientific journal articles that describe and evaluate these genomic sequence data.
  5. The Venter Institute will offer training opportunities to scientists and students in the countries where sampling is conducted.


Biological Resources Access Agreement


Memorándum de Entendimiento para la Colaboración en Biodiversidad Microbiana [Español] | Signature Page

Memorandum of Understanding for a Collaboration on Microbial Biodiversity [English Translation]

French Polynesia

Convention Relative a la Mise En Oeuvre de la Campangne de Recherche — «Etude de la Biodiversite Microbienne dans la Region Pacifique Sud» Menee par M. Craig Venter [Français]

Agreement on Implementing the "Study of Microbial Biodiversity in the South Pacific Region" — Research Campaign Led By Mr. Craig Venter [English Translation]


Statement of Understanding

New Caledonia

Convention pour la Mise En Euvre de la Campagne de Recherche — «Etude de la Biodiversity Microbienne Dans le Pacifique Sud» Menee par L'instutte for Biological Energy Alternatives [Français]


Agreement for non Commercial Material Transfer And Carrying Out Research in the Seychelles


Material Transfer and Carrying Out Research in Zanzibar


Code of Ethics Agreement for Foreign Researchers Undertaking Researches within the Flora and Fauna of Vanuatu


mSystems. 2017-02-14; 2.1:
The Baltic Sea Virome: Diversity and Transcriptional Activity of DNA and RNA Viruses
Zeigler Allen L, McCrow JP, Ininbergs K, Dupont CL, Badger JH, Hoffman JM, Ekman M, Allen AE, Bergman B, Venter JC
PMID: 28217745
Environmental microbiology. 2015-12-01; 17.12: 5100-8.
Closing the gaps on the viral photosystem-I psaDCAB gene organization
Roitman S, Flores-Uribe J, Philosof A, Knowles B, Rohwer F, Ignacio-Espinoza JC, Sullivan MB, Cornejo-Castillo FM, Sánchez P, Acinas SG, Dupont CL, Béjà O
PMID: 26310718
The ISME journal. 2015-07-01; 9.7: 1648-61.
Connecting biodiversity and potential functional role in modern euxinic environments by microbial metagenomics
Llorens-Marès T, Yooseph S, Goll J, Hoffman J, Vila-Costa M, Borrego CM, Dupont CL, Casamayor EO
PMID: 25575307
The ISME journal. 2015-05-01; 9.5: 1076-92.
Genomes and gene expression across light and productivity gradients in eastern subtropical Pacific microbial communities
Dupont CL, McCrow JP, Valas R, Moustafa A, Walworth N, Goodenough U, Roth R, Hogle SL, Bai J, Johnson ZI, Mann E, Palenik B, Barbeau KA, Venter JC, Allen AE
PMID: 25333462
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2015-01-27; 112.4: 1173-8.
Genomic and proteomic characterization of "Candidatus Nitrosopelagicus brevis": an ammonia-oxidizing archaeon from the open ocean
Santoro AE, Dupont CL, Richter RA, Craig MT, Carini P, McIlvin MR, Yang Y, Orsi WD, Moran DM, Saito MA
PMID: 25587132
The ISME journal. 2014-09-01; 8.9: 1892-903.
Picocyanobacteria containing a novel pigment gene cluster dominate the brackish water Baltic Sea
Larsson J, Celepli N, Ininbergs K, Dupont CL, Yooseph S, Bergman B, Ekman M
PMID: 24621524
PloS one. 2014-02-27; 9.2: e89549.
Functional tradeoffs underpin salinity-driven divergence in microbial community composition
Dupont CL, Larsson J, Yooseph S, Ininbergs K, Goll J, Asplund-Samuelsson J, McCrow JP, Celepli N, Allen LZ, Ekman M, Lucas AJ, Hagström Å, Thiagarajan M, Brindefalk B, Richter AR, Andersson AF, Tenney A, Lundin D, Tovchigrechko A, Nylander JA, Brami D, Badger JH, Allen AE, Rusch DB, Hoffman J, Norrby E, Friedman R, Pinhassi J, Venter JC, Bergman B
PMID: 24586863
Current opinion in microbiology. 2013-10-01; 16.5: 605-17.
Lineage specific gene family enrichment at the microscale in marine systems
Allen AE, Allen LZ, McCrow JP
PMID: 24377115
Genome announcements. 2013-01-01; 1.1:
Draft Genome Sequence of a Single Cell of SAR86 Clade Subgroup IIIa
Rusch DB, Lombardo MJ, Yee-Greenbaum J, Novotny M, Brinkac LM, Lasken RS, Dupont CL
PMID: 23405308
The ISME journal. 2012-07-01; 6.7: 1403-14.
Influence of nutrients and currents on the genomic composition of microbes across an upwelling mosaic
Zeigler Allen L, Allen EE, Badger JH, McCrow JP, Paulsen IT, Elbourne LD, Thiagarajan M, Rusch DB, Nealson KH, Williamson SJ, Venter JC, Allen AE
PMID: 22278668
The ISME journal. 2012-06-01; 6.6: 1186-99.
Genomic insights to SAR86, an abundant and uncultivated marine bacterial lineage
Dupont CL, Rusch DB, Yooseph S, Lombardo MJ, Richter RA, Valas R, Novotny M, Yee-Greenbaum J, Selengut JD, Haft DH, Halpern AL, Lasken RS, Nealson K, Friedman R, Venter JC
PMID: 22170421
PloS one. 2012-01-01; 7.5: e42047.
Metagenomic exploration of viruses throughout the Indian Ocean
Williamson SJ, Allen LZ, Lorenzi HA, Fadrosh DW, Brami D, Thiagarajan M, McCrow JP, Tovchigrechko A, Yooseph S, Venter JC
PMID: 23082107
Standards in genomic sciences. 2011-07-01; 4.3: 418-29.
TheViral MetaGenome Annotation Pipeline(VMGAP):an automated tool for the functional annotation of viral Metagenomic shotgun sequencing data
Lorenzi HA, Hoover J, Inman J, Safford T, Murphy S, Kagan L, Williamson SJ
PMID: 21886867
Genome biology. 2011-06-27; 12.6: 117.
Genomes of uncultured eukaryotes: sorting FACS from fiction
Worden AZ, Dupont C, Allen AE
PMID: 21722350
PloS one. 2011-03-23; 6.3: e17722.
Single virus genomics: a new tool for virus discovery
Allen LZ, Ishoey T, Novotny MA, McLean JS, Lasken RS, Williamson SJ
PMID: 21436882
PloS one. 2011-03-18; 6.3: e18011.
Stalking the fourth domain in metagenomic data: searching for, discovering, and interpreting novel, deep branches in marker gene phylogenetic trees
Wu D, Wu M, Halpern A, Rusch DB, Yooseph S, Frazier M, Venter JC, Eisen JA
PMID: 21437252
Applied and environmental microbiology. 2011-02-01; 77.4: 1512-5.
Novel antibacterial proteins from the microbial communities associated with the sponge Cymbastela concentrica and the green alga Ulva australis
Yung PY, Burke C, Lewis M, Kjelleberg S, Thomas T
PMID: 21183639
Nature. 2010-11-04; 468.7320: 60-6.
Genomic and functional adaptation in surface ocean planktonic prokaryotes
Yooseph S, Nealson KH, Rusch DB, McCrow JP, Dupont CL, Kim M, Johnson J, Montgomery R, Ferriera S, Beeson K, Williamson SJ, Tovchigrechko A, Allen AE, Zeigler LA, Sutton G, Eisenstadt E, Rogers YH, Friedman R, Frazier M, Venter JC
PMID: 21048761
Bioinformatics (Oxford, England). 2010-10-15; 26.20: 2631-2.
METAREP: JCVI metagenomics reports--an open source tool for high-performance comparative metagenomics
Goll J, Rusch DB, Tanenbaum DM, Thiagarajan M, Li K, Methé BA, Yooseph S
PMID: 20798169
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2010-09-14; 107.37: 16184-9.
Characterization of Prochlorococcus clades from iron-depleted oceanic regions
Rusch DB, Martiny AC, Dupont CL, Halpern AL, Venter JC
PMID: 20733077
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2010-08-17; 107.33: 14679-84.
Targeted metagenomics and ecology of globally important uncultured eukaryotic phytoplankton
Cuvelier ML, Allen AE, Monier A, McCrow JP, Messié M, Tringe SG, Woyke T, Welsh RM, Ishoey T, Lee JH, Binder BJ, Dupont CL, Latasa M, Guigand C, Buck KR, Hilton J, Thiagarajan M, Caler E, Read B, Lasken RS, Chavez FP, Worden AZ
PMID: 20668244
BMC biology. 2010-05-25; 8.70.
Expansion of ribosomally produced natural products: a nitrile hydratase- and Nif11-related precursor family
Haft DH, Basu MK, Mitchell DA
PMID: 20500830
Environmental microbiology. 2008-09-01; 10.9: 2200-10.
It's all relative: ranking the diversity of aquatic bacterial communities
Shaw AK, Halpern AL, Beeson K, Tran B, Venter JC, Martiny JB
PMID: 18637951
BMC bioinformatics. 2008-04-10; 9.182.
Gene identification and protein classification in microbial metagenomic sequence data via incremental clustering
Yooseph S, Li W, Sutton G
PMID: 18402669
PloS one. 2008-01-23; 3.1: e1456.
The Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition: metagenomic characterization of viruses within aquatic microbial samples
Williamson SJ, Rusch DB, Yooseph S, Halpern AL, Heidelberg KB, Glass JI, Andrews-Pfannkoch C, Fadrosh D, Miller CS, Sutton G, Frazier M, Venter JC
PMID: 18213365
The ISME journal. 2007-10-01; 1.6: 492-501.
Viral photosynthetic reaction center genes and transcripts in the marine environment
Sharon I, Tzahor S, Williamson S, Shmoish M, Man-Aharonovich D, Rusch DB, Yooseph S, Zeidner G, Golden SS, Mackey SR, Adir N, Weingart U, Horn D, Venter JC, Mandel-Gutfreund Y, Béjà O
PMID: 18043651
Environmental microbiology. 2007-06-01; 9.6: 1464-75.
Assessing diversity and biogeography of aerobic anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria in surface waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans using the Global Ocean Sampling expedition metagenomes
Yutin N, Suzuki MT, Teeling H, Weber M, Venter JC, Rusch DB, Béjà O
PMID: 17504484
PLoS biology. 2007-03-13; 5.3: e85.
Untapped bounty: sampling the seas to survey microbial biodiversity
Gross L
PMID: 20076663
PLoS biology. 2007-03-01; 5.3: e17.
Structural and functional diversity of the microbial kinome
Kannan N, Taylor SS, Zhai Y, Venter JC, Manning G
PMID: 17355172
PLoS biology. 2007-03-01; 5.3: e16.
The Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling expedition: expanding the universe of protein families
Yooseph S, Sutton G, Rusch DB, Halpern AL, Williamson SJ, Remington K, Eisen JA, Heidelberg KB, Manning G, Li W, Jaroszewski L, Cieplak P, Miller CS, Li H, Mashiyama ST, Joachimiak MP, van Belle C, Chandonia JM, Soergel DA, Zhai Y, Natarajan K, Lee S, Raphael BJ, Bafna V, Friedman R, Brenner SE, Godzik A, Eisenberg D, Dixon JE, Taylor SS, Strausberg RL, Frazier M, Venter JC
PMID: 17355171
PLoS biology. 2007-03-01; 5.3: e75.
CAMERA: a community resource for metagenomics
Seshadri R, Kravitz SA, Smarr L, Gilna P, Frazier M
PMID: 17355175
PLoS biology. 2007-03-01; 5.3: e77.
The Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling expedition: northwest Atlantic through eastern tropical Pacific
Rusch DB, Halpern AL, Sutton G, Heidelberg KB, Williamson S, Yooseph S, Wu D, Eisen JA, Hoffman JM, Remington K, Beeson K, Tran B, Smith H, Baden-Tillson H, Stewart C, Thorpe J, Freeman J, Andrews-Pfannkoch C, Venter JE, Li K, Kravitz S, Heidelberg JF, Utterback T, Rogers YH, Falcón LI, Souza V, Bonilla-Rosso G, Eguiarte LE, Karl DM, Sathyendranath S, Platt T, Bermingham E, Gallardo V, Tamayo-Castillo G, Ferrari MR, Strausberg RL, Nealson K, Friedman R, Frazier M, Venter JC
PMID: 17355176
Science (New York, N.Y.). 2004-04-02; 304.5667: 66-74.
Environmental genome shotgun sequencing of the Sargasso Sea
Venter JC, Remington K, Heidelberg JF, Halpern AL, Rusch D, Eisen JA, Wu D, Paulsen I, Nelson KE, Nelson W, Fouts DE, Levy S, Knap AH, Lomas MW, Nealson K, White O, Peterson J, Hoffman J, Parsons R, Baden-Tillson H, Pfannkoch C, Rogers YH, Smith HO
PMID: 15001713