Virgin Oceanic plumbs the depths for science

Mission scientists discuss what Richard Branson's deep-sea quest hopes to find.

Scientists are along for the ride as Virgin Oceanic explores the deepest parts of our oceans.

Virgin Oceanic: Richard Branson's plans to pilot a deep-diving submarine to the bottom of the ocean may sound like just the latest adventure for the entrepreneur behind the Virgin brand. But the Virgin Oceanic mission, unveiled this week, is backed by a team of scientists planning groundbreaking marine research.

The project aims to take a one-person submarine to the deepest parts of the seas, starting with the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. This will be the first manned exploration of the area since the Trieste submersible set an unequalled depth record of more than 10 kilometres by voyaging to the bottom of the Challenger Deep region of the trench in 1960.

As well as the manned submarine, a series of remote probes will be dispatched into the depths carrying scientific equipment. Naturespoke to research-team members Douglas Bartlett, a marine microbiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and Katrina Edwards, a microbiologist at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, about what they hope to learn.

(Source: Nature news http://www.nature.com)