Brussels, 14 May 2004
Recent advances in the field of genomics have opened up many exciting avenues of research, which offer real hope in the identification of new treatments for human diseases and genetic disorders. Marine biology, however, has largely been overlooked during the so called 'genomics revolution'. Until now, that is.
On 11 May, during the EUROCEAN 2004 event in Galway, Ireland, details were presented of a Network of Excellence (NoE), newly established with funding from the Commission, which aims to introduce the genomic approaches and technologies developed in other fields to the marine sciences.
One of the partners in the 'Marine Genomics' NoE is Professor Adelino Canario, director of the Algarve centre of marine sciences at the University of Algarve in Portugal. CORDIS News spoke to Professor Canario and asked him how the network would achieve its objective.
'Being a Network of Excellence, we are not focusing so much on specific scientific outputs - the aim is rather to integrate approaches throughout Europe,' he explained. 'One example will be the development of high-throughput gene sequencing techniques for the study of marine biology.'
This element of the project seeks to provide research centres throughout Europe with enabling technologies designed to identify the gene functions of a wide range of marine life, from microorganisms to vertebrates, he continued.
'A further aspect of our work will be to provide marine researchers with access to technology platforms, comprising experimental equipment and databases that integrate the produced data. This is made possible through the participation in the NoE of a number of large research centres in countries like Germany, France and the UK,' said Professor Canario.
Indeed, the network as a whole brings together 44 institutes of varying size from 16 European countries, which ensures the involvement of some 300 researchers in total. In order to make this possible, the European Commission has invested ten million euro in the scheme, under the 'Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems' priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
'This is the first such initiative in the area of marine science, and for us this is a big step. For the first time on such a scale, we will enable marine biologists to use genomics techniques that are already becoming quite established in other areas of science - I believe this is why the Commission chose to fund the network,' said Professor Canario.
While the Marine Genomics network may not be focusing directly on scientific results itself, Professor Canario believes that a number of projects will develop around it. 'Teams will be able to take advantage of the facilities and technologies we provide to examine questions related to biodiversity, biotechnology, aquaculture, and biological and ecosystem modelling.'
In addition to the scientific and technological elements of the project, emphasis will also be placed on the transfer of knowledge to the wider research community. 'We will undertake dissemination activities aimed at doctoral and post doctoral researchers, and use the Internet, for example, to spread the results of our work,' explained Professor Canario. A project website ( http:///www.marine-genomics-europe.org) will soon be online to contribute to this effort.
In his own country, Portugal, Professor Canario hopes to encourage research centres and teams not involved in the network to adopt the technologies and approaches that will be developed, as for many of them it will be the first time they have used such techniques.
Asked whether he believes Marine Genomics will achieve all the objectives that it has set itself, Professor Canario expressed his high hopes for a successful outcome: 'After some initial uncertainty, things are really beginning to take shape.'
'Participants have already met to discuss areas of key importance for the future of marine biology, and when people get together like that it can be really very useful,' he concluded. The hope is that by structuring marine genomics research in this way and adopting such cutting edge approaches, the Marine Genomics NoE will help to position Europe alongside the US and Japan as a leader in this rapidly developing field of discovery.
For further information on Networks of Excellence, please consult the following web address: