Scientists call for support for European Reference Genome Atlas to decipher the genomes of all European species
Scientists of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) together with colleagues representing 39 institutions from 17 EU countries have called upon the European Commission to support genomics research as part of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 in the upcoming Horizon Europe programme. The group proposes to the EU to provide competitive funding for sequencing the genomes of all animals, plants, and microorganisms in Europe (at least 200,000 species) in a Pan-European collaborative effort tentatively named European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA). This urgent call is intended to foster better understanding, management and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Scientists, politicians and interested citizens are invited to add their names as signatories to the list in support of ERGA at https://vertebrategenomesproject.org/erga.
The idea of the European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA) was developed within the Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP) in January 2020 and builds on growing efforts within the European Union and non-EU countries – including the VGP, Earth Biogenome Project (EBP), Darwin Tree of Life, Bird 10K Genomes (B10K), Bat1K, and Catalan Biogenome Project – to set up collaborative and coordinated genomics research in terms of genomic consortia. A common mission of these projects is to generate high-quality, error-free genome sequences of all species within a group (such as vertebrates for the VGP) or a geographic location (such as the UK for the Sanger Darwin Tree of Life) to address fundamental questions in biology, one health/disease work, and biological conservation. An ERGA would join the expertise of these groups and upscale efforts for the purpose of coordinating the establishment of high-quality genomes for all of European biological diversity and wildlife.
“As a large group of scientists willing to coordinate and cooperate across Europe, we ask that the promotion of genome research is given priority by the European Parliament and the European Commission as an important tool to foster the rapid expansion of our knowledge on biological diversity in support of species conservation", said Dr Camila Mazzoni, one of the proponents of the initiative. The European Reference Genome Atlas will develop a leading role in biodiversity and genome research for Europe, with the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Berlin Center for Genomics in Biodiversity Research (BeGenDiv) assuming a central position for Germany.
“Biological diversity, or biodiversity in short, is the ensemble of life forms living on our planet. It is central to maintaining ecosystem functions, and therefore it is widely recognized as a fundamental asset for many sectors of the global economy and for nature-based solutions tackling key societal challenges”, says Mazzoni. “Genomics, the study of the entire genetic material of individuals, populations and communities, is a pervasive discipline crucial to all fields of the life sciences, and an essential tool in our response to global change and for wildlife conservation in the face of the ongoing mass extinction crisis.”
Biodiversity in Europe is shrinking every day as a consequence from manifold human activities. It is difficult to predict which species will win or lose the race against the current pace of global change. “The answer to this can often be inferred from the genome of a species”, says Dr Daniel Foerster (Leibniz-IZW), another proponent of the ERGA initiative. “These findings are essential for sustainable agriculture and fisheries as well as species protection. So, this initiative is also relevant to and addressing issues close to human well-being, our health and economic systems.” There is an urgent need to determine which factors pose the greatest threat to individual species. This challenge can only be met with a large-scale, transnational project. Findings from the ERGA will enable directed and effective species conservation management to preserve European biodiversity.
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW)
in the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17, 10315 Berlin
Dr Camila Mazzoni
Team leader “Evolutionary and Conservation Genomics” at the Department of Evolutionary Genetics
phone: +49 (0)30 83859961
Dr Daniel Förster
Team leader “Conservation Genomics” at the Department of Evolutionary Genetics
phone: +49 (0)30 5168311
phone: +49 (0)30 5168121