Coupling Imaging and Omics in Plankton Surveys: State-of-the-Art, Challenges, and Future Directions
Frontiers in Marine Science
A major challenge in characterizing plankton communities is the collection, identification and quantification of samples in a time-efficient way. The classical manual microscopy counts are gradually being replaced by high throughput imaging and nucleic acid sequencing. DNA sequencing allows deep taxonomic resolution (including cryptic species) as well as high detection power (detecting rare species), while RNA provides insights on function and potential activity. However, these methods are
... ted by database limitations, PCR bias, and copy number variability across taxa. Recent developments in high-throughput imaging applied in situ or on collected samples (high-throughput microscopy, Underwater Vision Profiler, FlowCam, ZooScan, etc) has enabled a rapid enumeration of morphologically-distinguished plankton populations, estimates of biovolume/biomass, and provides additional valuable phenotypic information. Although machine learning classifiers generate encouraging results to classify marine plankton images in a time efficient way, there is still a need for large training datasets of manually annotated images. Here we provide workflow examples that couple nucleic acid sequencing with high-throughput imaging for a more complete and robust analysis of microbial communities. We also describe the publicly available and collaborative web application EcoTaxa, which offers tools for the rapid validation of plankton by specialists with the help of automatic recognition algorithms. Finally, we describe how the field is moving with citizen science programs, unmanned autonomous platforms with in situ sensors, and sequencing and digitalization of historical plankton samples.