In November 2003, an important workshop "Unveiling the ocean's hidden majority: A Roadmap" was held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Research Institute (MBARI) on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Monterey, CA. This workshop was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundations and was attended by approximately 50 scientists engaged in various aspects of microbial oceanography. This meeting led to the development of at least three new initiatives for the discipline: The Alfred P Sloan Foundation's International Census of Marine Microbes (ICoMM), The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation's Initiative in Marine Microbiology, and The Agouron Institute's program in Marine Microbial Ecology. Dr. Mel Simon, Chairman of The Agouron Institute Board, and Dr. John Abelson, President and Executive Director of The Agouron Institute, participated in the MBARI meeting and carried the enthusiasm generated at the meeting back to The Agouron Institute Board for further consideration.
In Januray 2004, The Agouron Institute sponsored a second major meeting entitled "Marine Microbial Ecology", held at L'Auberge Resort in Del Mar, CA. This meeting was attended by about 25 scientists including several members of The Agouron Institute Board; the meeting was organized and chaired by Dr. Mel Simon, Chairman of The Agouron Institute Board and Professor of Biology at Cal Tech. The Del Mar meeting resulted in a decision by The Agouron Board to establish a new initiative in Marine Microbial Ecology (analogous to their GeoBiology initiative that began in 2001). A second, smaller planning meeting was held at the Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, CA to further develope the scope of the initiative. It led to a proposal by David Karl, Ed DeLong, Matthew Church, and Michael Rappe to organize and conduct an intensive training course in marine microbial ecology, as well as several independent field research programs.
A formal report on the background, challenges and prospectus of the Marine Microbial Ecology initiative is currently in press. This course, "Microbial Oceanography from Genomes to Biomes" is the direct result of this three-year planning effort.