DEEPEND: Deep-ocean resources and biodiscovery

A photograph of two petri disks containing lines of streptomyces bacteria growth-

Streptomyces bacteria isolated from deep ocean sediment. © Darren Scobie

Deepend project logo

Studying the societal value of biodiversity in the deep sea

The global surge in demand for metals such as cobalt and nickel has created unprecedented interest in the exploration of deep-sea habitats containing these mineral resources. However, seabed mining is inherently high risk as little is known about the biodiversity in these areas and what the impacts of these activities might be. Therefore, we must first understand the value of biodiversity to assess the consequences of resource extraction.

Marine organisms are a promising resource for useful natural products such as medicines. The potential use of biodiversity - or marine genetic resources (MGR) - has yet to be thoroughly explored in the deep sea. These organisms offer the exciting potential discovery of new gene clusters that direct the formation of enzymes and small molecules. These could have useful biotechnological and pharmaceutical applications, including the discovery of novel antibiotics, coming at a time when society faces an antimicrobial resistance crisis.

The DEEPEND project applies comparative omics tools encompassing genomics and metabolomics to central and south Pacific regions, including areas protected from mining. 

This work will:

  • Provide fundamental knowledge of invertebrates and microorganisms inhabiting the abyssal Pacific mining regions.
  • Define their capacity to produce natural products.
  • Inform policy on seabed mining.
  • Enable understanding of future climate scenarios.
  • Provide long-term research and development value. 

This dynamic biodiversity assessment in protected and at-risk regions of the deep sea can help support a fair and informed comparison of the potential impacts of seabed mining compared to terrestrial mining. 

The microorganisms cultured as part of this work will also be subjected to future climate scenarios and abiotic stresses to define how their produced chemistry changes and better understand how biodiverse microorganisms may adapt to changing climates.

Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS), such as the Cook Islands and Kiribati, are also developing plans to explore their deep ocean for mineral resources and establish regions protected from mining. We have therefore developed a partnership between UK research institutes and PSIDS, including partners at the University of the South Pacific (USP), which covers 14 Pacific Island States, including the Cook Islands and Kiribati. 

We also work closely with the Pacific Community (SPC) to realise Pacific-wide capacity building and technology transfer, with the aim of expanding potential networks, collections, and collaborations across the region. 

An image collage featuring 40 photographs of abyssal animals from the deep sea

Abyssal animals from the deep sea of the Pacific. © Adrian Glover, Thomas Dahlgren and Helena Wiklund.

Project summary

Focus: Studying the societal value of biodiversity in the deep sea.

Funding: DEFRA’s Global Centre on Biodiversity and Climate.


Prof Jon Copley, University of Southampton

Dr Katherine Duncan, University of Strathclyde

Joape Ginigini, University of the South Pacific

Dr Taitusi Taufa, University of South Pacific

Dr Tammy Horton, National Oceanography Centre 

Prof Marcel Jaspars, University of Aberdeen

Dr John Parianos, Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority

Dr Katy Soapi, University of the South Pacific

Rime Browne, Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority

Lucy Harris, University of Southampton

Alex Herman, Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority

Dr Gagan Preet, University of Aberdeen

Dr Darren Scobie, University of Strathclyde