Thanks to a certain underwater cartoon, plankton don't have the best reputation.
But a 3.5-year worldwide study of the microscopic ocean organisms shows just how valuable the little critters are.
The project, carried out by an international research team, traveled about 87,000 miles around the globe. The crew weathered storms and even got locked in Arctic ice for 10 days.
Researchers collected plankton from more than 210 sites in every major oceanic region, using their samples to study plankton behavior, genetics and interactions in their ecosystem.
Plankton are the base of the marine food chain, but researchers said these complex organisms are greatly underappreciated:
"Without the phytoplankton, no oxygen. So for example, all the keys of doors are made of plankton. All the oil we burn is made of plankton. So those things are essential for the way Earth works, in general."
The study was the largest DNA sequencing effort ever done in ocean science and identified around 40 million plankton genes, most of which were previously unknown.
An accompanying article, published in the journal Science, said the study "has generated a treasure trove of data available to anyone willing to dive in." We're hoping the diving pun is intended.
This video includes images from Getty Images and music from Broke for Free / CC BY NC 3.0.