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An agenda for genomic knowledge about the ocean by 2010[1]

Three major strategic drivers are used as cornerstones for integrating marine science and technology in Europe.

  1. The ocean provides a unique opportunity for basic research. Major fundamental discoveries are continually being made in all aspects of the ocean system. Better understanding of earth ecosystem functions, physico-chemical interactions, and biological evolution will largely result from basic ocean research.
  2. Measuring, monitoring, understanding and being able to predict the mechanisms of ocean-atmosphere feedbacks in climate change and their impacts on the larger ocean environment are critical to the effective management of ocean and coastal seas.
  3. The management of maritime activities and sustainable exploitation of natural resources in European seas will be best achieved using a knowledge-based approach.

The real impact of marine genomic research on society will be impressive but will require the medium to long-view in investment return. The once data poor ocean is rapidly transforming into a data rich environment. It is time to “think outside the box”. This, however, entails the address of a number of key issues. We have regrouped them in four major strategic priorities and five steps of implementation.

Strategic Priorities

1. Changing environments: the ocean and its biosphere are changing continuously, be it under influence of natural events or the growing impact of man. The latter increasingly brings major concerns in society. Here knowledge is the key to decision and mitigation. Genomics has become a key for understanding biogeochemical processes. 3. Living resources: the ocean is a huge source of food. Most crucially, it guarantees a minimum level of health for the poor. Unfortunatly most (shell)fish stocks are overexploited and some are close to collapse. Fisheries management fi nds a valuable source of knowledge in genetic information.
2. Evolution of biodiversity: global biodiversity - including marine - is decreasing at an alarming rate. Species disappear or novel species (exotics) are reported in non-normal habitats. The genome is a repository of historical change and hence a source to predict future developments. Ecosystems are composed of species whose interactions affect the innumerable goods and services man gains from the oceans. Genomics is a practical tool to make the many unseen biota visible. 4. New biological resources: biomedical, industrial and societal applications can expect a great deal from blue biotechnology. So far the potential locked in the ocean has not been fully exploited. Genomics provides a novel and unique window into the resources locked up in all organisms from microbes to marine mammals.

The realisation of these strategic priorities demands a number of steps

1. Integrated science: with the growth of molecular sciences, inter- and multi-disciplinary approaches between marine genomics and ecosystem sciences, oceanography, global earth observation and health should be expanded and encouraged on local, regional and global scales. Joint projects, small and large alike, realised through joint funding, are the key to success. Systems biology is increasingly appearing as an integrating science.

2. Technological support: progress in (marine) genomics is based on sustained technological support. For example, in the establishment of marine model systems, the exploitation of large metagenomic datasets, postgenomics, bioprospection infrastructures for blue biotechnology and information management.

3. Development of research capacities: the increasing data fl ow from marine life through remote sensing, either from space or from semi-permanent stations in the ocean, offer ocean sciences immense opportunities for a better knowledge of a poorly

accessible environment. Automated monitoring, combined with onshore validation, experimentation and data processing will offer the necessary data to understand the significance of microbial remineralisation, ocean-wide primary productivity and the impact of removing top predators through fishing.

4. Links with society - education and training: appreciation of the ocean will directly benefi t from education and training in ocean sciences and management. Marine scientists promote their science and the environment they work in. As the ocean covers most of the globe, a critical mass of marine researchers is translated in larger numbers of marine scientists and policy makers.

5. Science mediation: organisations such as Marine Genomics Europe are perfect mediators between funding agencies, high-throughput technology platforms, specialist communities and the public.

Implementing a vision for 2020: from innovation to delivery

Marine Genomics has enormous potential to improve our lifestyles and prosperity, to enhance the competitiveness of European industry, and to guarantee global sustainability. In order for this future to be assured, the EU and its member states have to take further action. With this aim, the EU Network of Excellence (NoE) Marine Genomics Europe is involved in:

  • The collection of fundamental knowledge on the functioning of the oceans,
  • Knowledge transfer and technology translation between high-throughput genomics, marine biology, oceanographers, industry and society,
  • Working with policy makers,
  • Transparency and dialogue with society.

We need to focus on understanding and sustainable exploitation of the ocean in order to:

  • Generate knowledge for the sustainability of Planet Ocean,
  • Promote marine organisms as models for a variety of problems affecting daily life,
  • Promote sustainable exploitation of molecular products,
  • Promote the sustainable exploitation of food products,
  • Promote marine organisms as models for understanding evolution and the secrets of life.

These goals arise from the ongoing efforts of the three marine Networks of Excellence (NoEs) Marine Genomics Europe, MarBEF and Eur-Oceans.

Finally … Marine organisms represent a rich source of critical fundamental knowledge on genomics and biology in general. Due to its huge potential for exploitation, the demand for marine sciences will strongly increase in the near future. The successful exploitation of these multi-facetted and hitherto untapped resources will demand far greater investment than the current 10% in earth and life sciences. The real impact of this frontier zone of research on society has already proven to be impressive.

“A vision is urgently needed for marine related research in Europe leading to a strategy that derives even greater benefits from the Framework Programmes and other sources of funding in Europe, avoids duplication, closes gaps and creates synergies. The strategy should include mechanisms for optimizing coordination, cooperation and dialogue between the Commission and policymakers, industry and scientific communities in Member States and third countries. On the basis of input from the scientific and technical community, it should set out what is necessary to support strong and durable integration of activities among organisations carrying out research relating to the sea and maritime activities in Europe, and to provide for a stronger cross sectoral dialogue between scientific disciplines and technology developers, to provide input for a holistic approach to maritime policy” (EU 2005).


  1. Volckaert F.A.M., Barbier M., Canário A.V.M., Clark M.S., Glöckner F.O., Olsen J.L., Wesnigk J., Boyen C. (2008) Marine Genomics Europe. The European flagship of marine sciences for a sustainable future. 38 pp. Marine Genomics Europe, EC-FP6 GOCE-CT-2004-505403