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Current press releases

Logo of the Biodiversity Genomics Europe consortium (source: BGE)
Logo of the Biodiversity Genomics Europe consortium (source: BGE)

European genomic researchers gather to launch an unprecedented project that will tackle the biodiversity crisis using DNA data. The comprehensive application of genomic science to biodiversity research will fundamentally change conservation science and policy – with impacts predicted to be on a scale similar to those of the Human Genome Project in medicine. The new pan-European Biodiversity Genomics Europe (BGE) consortium, launched today, is leading the way. BGE is integrated with the European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA), the pan-European scientific community of experts in genome sequencing, which coordinates the generation of reference-quality genomes for all eukaryotic European species.

Time is running out. An appalling one in four species on the planet are currently threatened with extinction, putting livelihoods, food supplies, and essential water and nutrient cycles at risk. Knowledge is of the essence in the fight to reverse this unprecedented loss of species and degradation of ecosystems – yet currently our understanding of how life on Earth functions and responds to environmental pressures is far from complete. Genomics provides crucial new tools to answer these questions, and the BGE consortium will provide substantial progress in the use of genomics across the continent.

Despite centuries of scientific research, an estimated 80% of the world’s species still await scientific discovery and description. Even for described species, telling them apart is often difficult. Moreover, interactions within and among species, and between species and their environment, create a complex picture which stretches from the individual to planetary levels. Genomic science is a promising avenue to map these interdependencies and predict how individuals and populations may respond to environmental change.

By bringing together Europe’s key scientists in two fundamental DNA-based technologies – DNA barcoding and genome sequencing – BGE will streamline the rollout of these methods across Europe.

DNA barcoding uses short sequences of DNA to discriminate between species - analogous to the way conventional barcodes distinguish products in a supermarket. With modern genetic sequencing techniques, DNA barcoding has the potential to dramatically accelerate the inventory of life on Earth, providing a basis for global conservation monitoring.

At the opposite end of the scale, genome sequencing determines the order of DNA nucleotides – the building blocks of the genetic code – throughout the entire genome of any given species. This enables scientists to identify and locate genes and other features of the genome, creating a comparative 'map' of the code that creates each organism. This provides a full picture of how biological systems function and, crucially, how species respond and adapt to environmental change.

The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the European Green Deal make clear commitments to address challenges such as pollinator decline, the deterioration of key terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats, and the impact of invasive non-native species on biodiversity. The Horizon Europe-funded BGE Consortium – a major investment in European genomic science – provides the means to achieve these aims.

Statements

BGE’s project director, Dimitris Koureas (Naturalis Biodiversity Center, The Netherlands) says: “We see BGE as a mechanism through which we can go out from the limitations of national investments that we already have in biodiversity genomics and into the European level. We are looking at BGE as a mechanism to build the economies of scope and scale that we need for the future.”

Pete Hollingsworth, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, says: “This vital European coalition brings together diverse expertise and infrastructure across two emerging technological streams using the power of DNA and genomic science to help understand and conserve biodiversity, providing the means to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the planet today.”

Camila Mazzoni, research group leader in Evolutionary and Conservation Genomics at the Leibniz-IZW and first elected chairperson of ERGA, says: “BGE bridges the identification and monitoring of coexisting species via barcoding and the understanding of the entire genetic make-up and adaptive capacity of each species via genomes. The steady build-up and connection of both types of information will bring an unprecedented understanding of Earth’s biodiversity and the human actions towards its restoration.”

BGE will also collaborate with the Earth BioGenome Project in the USA and the International Barcode of Life in Canada.

Boilerplates

The €21 million Biodiversity Genomics Europe (BGE) Project is co-funded by the European Commission, as well as the UK and Swiss governments. This first large European project will run until 2026. It brings together organisations from the BIOSCAN Europe DNA-barcoding consortium (104 partner institutions across 29 countries) and the ERGA genome-sequencing consortium (709 members across 37 countries).
biodiversitygenomics.eu

BIOSCAN Europe brings together existing European national networks, scientists and projects that work on the monitoring of biodiversity using DNA to build an efficient European system of interconnected facilities for rapid identification and monitoring of species. The initiative is part of the International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) and its global BIOSCAN initiative, which aims to transform understanding of species diversity, their interactions, and dynamics. BIOSCAN Europe’s aim is to establish a European hub for the International Barcode of Life consortium.
www.bioscaneurope.org

The European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA) initiative is a pan-European scientific community of experts in genome sequencing that aims to coordinate the generation of reference-quality genomes for all eukaryotic European species. ERGA follows a distributed model to create and consolidate a collaborative and interdisciplinary network of scientists across Europe and associated countries. ERGA works to develop and propagate guidelines for scaling up all the steps required for state-of-the-art reference genome generation through training and knowledge transfer.
www.erga-biodiversity.eu

Contacts

Biodiversity Genomics Europe
Darwinweg 2, 2333 CR – Leiden (Netherlands)
Email: info@biodiversitygenomics.eu
Twitter: @BioGenEurope
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/biodiversity-genomics-europe/

European Reference Genome Atlas
Dr Camila Mazzoni
Head “Evolutionary and conservation genetics” at Berlin Center for Genomics in Biodiversity Research (BeGenDiv)
Research Group Leader in Evolutionary and Conservation Genomics at the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at Leibniz-IZW
Chairperson of ERGA
phone: +49(0)30 5168315 and  +49(0)30 83859961
email: mazzoni@izw-berlin.de

Luísa Marins
ERGA Science Communication
email: luisa.marins19@hotmail.com

Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research
Jan Zwilling
Science communication
phone: +49(0)30 5168121
email: zwilling@izw-berlin.de

Spotted hyena female with offspring (photo: Oliver Höner/Leibniz-IZW)
Spotted hyena female with offspring (photo: Oliver Höner/Leibniz-IZW)

The motivation to help conspecifics differs from species to species – and also between males and females. An international team of scientists with the participation of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) now showed for seven group-living animal species that the degree of kinship of an animal to the other group members can change over its lifetime and that this change follows systematic patterns – in spotted hyena females, for example, it decreases over the course of life, whereas it increases in hyena males. These “kinship dynamics” profoundly influence the incentive of an animal to help its groupmates. The results are published in the journal "Nature Ecology & Evolution" and contribute to a better understanding of social behaviour and the emergence of different social systems.

Red squirrel in Berlin (Photo: Stephanie Kramer-Schadt)
Red squirrel in Berlin (Photo: Stephanie Kramer-Schadt)

Red squirrels are among the most commonly sighted wildlife in European big cities such as Berlin. However, their habitats are more reminiscent of a patchwork quilt full of challenges, a team of scientists led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) found out, with the help of computer models and red squirrel sightings by citizen scientists. The models link sightings to numerous environmental parameters and thus become important tools for urban planning, as they identify areas where ecological corridors are missing that could connect fragmented habitats. The work is published in the scientific journal “Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution”. In a follow-up project, the team aims to fill knowledge gaps on survival, dispersal potential, diet and health of Berlin’s red squirrels.

Maiden flight of the GAIA tag system (Photo: Jan Zwilling)
Maiden flight of the GAIA tag system (Photo: Jan Zwilling)

How can a vulture in a Berlin Zoo help its conspecifics and their habitats in Namibia? As a model and patron for a new generation of animal tags: The prototype of an innovative animal tag system developed by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (Fraunhofer IIS) completed its maiden flight on a vulture at Tierpark Berlin today. The tags will be equipped with sensor-based artificial intelligence (AI), a camera, energy-efficient electronics and satellite-based communication technology. This will allow for entirely new insights into the world of animals and their habitats: The tags detect and transmit animal behaviour in real time and are thus an early warning system for ecological changes.

BioRescue (Photo: Jan Zwilling)
BioRescue (Photo: Jan Zwilling)

Three years after starting its ambitious programme to save the northern white rhino from extinction through advanced assisted reproduction technologies, the BioRescue consortium draws a positive interim conclusion: Following the 10thevent of harvesting immature egg cells (oocytes) in the northern white rhino female Fatu, the international team produced 5 additional embryos – bringing the total to 22 sired by two bulls. This nourishes the hope to eventually succeed in producing new offspring and give a keystone grazer of Central Africa a new future. At the same time, the consortium places the highest value on respecting the life and welfare of the individual animals involved. Regular veterinary and ethical assessments of oocyte collection procedures show that Fatu handles the procedures well and shows no signs of detrimental health effects. BioRescue is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Spotted hyenas (Photo: Sonja Metzger/Leibniz-IZW)
Spotted hyenas (Photo: Sonja Metzger/Leibniz-IZW)

Scientific analyses indicate that in humans several factors such as traumatic experiences during childhood have long-term effects on health and life expectancy. A team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) has now demonstrated the important influence of maternal, social and ecological factors during early life on survival, longevity and reproductive performance of female adult spotted hyenas: For example, the social status of the mother had a significant, positive effect on the reproduction of the following generation. On the other hand, being born to an elder mother or growing up during a period of increased rainfall reduced survival and longevity. The authors suggest in their paper, published in the scientific journal “Journal of Animal Ecology”, that the combination of specific conditions during early life may matter more than the simple accumulation of either beneficial or adverse conditions to predict life prospects in wildlife populations.

Pipistrellus bat (Photo: Christian Giese)
Pipistrellus bat (Photo: Christian Giese)

Some bat species are more likely to be found in cities than in the countryside. A scientific team from Freie Universität Berlin, the University of Greifswald, the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) now investigated which characteristics are typical for urban and rural bats. The team found that bat species with higher affinity to cities are characterised by relatively low frequencies and long durations of their echolocation calls, a small body size and flexibility in the choice of their daytime roost. The increasing urbanisation of rural areas could favour these species, while relatively large species with high calling frequencies and short calling durations, as well as a specific roost choice could fall behind, the team argues in a paper in the journal “Global Change Biology”.

Common noctule bat with GPS tag (photo: Manuel Roeleke)
Common noctule bat with GPS tag (photo: Manuel Roeleke)

Social hunting strategies are already well documented in many animal species when prey is distributed in an unpredictable way across the landscape. In a new research paper, Manuel Roeleke and his team from the University of Potsdam and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) have now demonstrated for the first time that animals – in this case the common noctule bat – join together and form a mobile sensory network in order to increase their chances of finding their prey. The analyses published today in the scientific journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” show that predators can adjust to variable environmental conditions through flexible foraging strategies by networking with conspecifics.