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EU-led Marine Biodiversity Effort Harnesses Genomics for Monitoring

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A new European-funded international project will integrate genomic and metagenomics studies into a multidisciplinary effort that uses remote sensing and modeling technologies to study how human activities and global changes affect marine biodiversity.

The project is funded with €9 million ($11.5 million) from the European Union under the Environment Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). It will be led by the Spanish Marine and Food Technological Centre (AZTI-Tecnalia), and will involve more than 250 researchers from 23 research centers in the EU, Asia, and North America.

The partners seek to study existing biodiversity and develop new ones in order to study marine life in a harmonized manner, and will train their focus on the European regional seas, including the Mediterranean, the Black and Baltic Seas, and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Development of Innovative Tools for Understanding Marine Biodiversity and Assessing Good Environmental Status project , or DEVOTES, will run through 2016 and will aim to develop and validate new tools that bring together economic theory and assessment methods in an integrated way.

"It is of strategic importance to know the main human pressures affecting the marine environment and biodiversity because this knowledge is necessary for their protection," Ángel Borja, a principal investigator at the Marine Research Division at AZTI-Tecnalia and coordinator for the DEVOTES project, said in a statement.

"The project will enable European policies that promote the sustainable development and the environmental status assessment of our seas and it will reinforce the cooperation among member states and regional seas, both at [the] EU level and internationally," Borja said.

One of the work programs the project is funding will focus on using innovative molecular biology technologies, including next-generation sequencing and other high-throughput approaches, to identify microorganisms and large invertebrates, or to detect genes that could serve as indicators of the presence of toxins.

These technologies might be used to develop innovative approaches that use instruments and methods for identifying important variables and indicators for monitoring biodiversity among species and functional groups, habitats, and ecosystems, the European Commission said.

To develop these monitoring systems and tools, the project will support research to validate metagenetic and metagenomic approaches to assess structural and functional biodiversity and to validate toxic genes in harmful algae. DEVOTES also will support projects that assess the use of molecular approaches for biodiversity quantification; that apply remote sensing to assess marine biodiversity; and that apply innovative tools to gather information on the potential dangers of algae to human health.

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