The University of Minho (UMinho) represents Portugal in BIOSCAN, the revolutionary program for inventorying and monitoring biodiversity on a global scale, based on the analysis of standardized DNA segments.
The project – which was launched on June 16 in Trondheim, Norway – will involve more than a thousand researchers from 31 countries and has funding of 180 million euros over the next seven years.
The initiative comes in the face of the sharp decline in biodiversity and the urgent need for it to be integrated into socio-economic models, within the framework of an increasingly global trade.
BIOSCAN will allow the discovery of plants, animals, fungi, algae and unicellular beings at an unprecedented rate, in addition to deepening the knowledge of symbioses between species and allowing monitoring on a global scale the dynamics of biological communities.
The identification system is based on DNA barcodes, analogous to barcodes on commercial products, by defining a specific set of genetic characters for each species.
“We know about two million species, but it is estimated that there are possibly between 10 and 20 million, there is a huge work to be done. Therefore, we hope by 2026 to compile DNA barcodes of at least the approximately two million species formally recognized, revealing numerous new species along the way”, says Filipe Costa, researcher at the Center for Molecular and Environmental Biology (CBMA) and professor from the Department of Biology of the School of Sciences at UMinho.
Through the expansion of the global library of DNA barcodes, BIOSCAN will help verify the authenticity of foods, facilitate the detection of agricultural pests, control products in customs, bioprospecting and conservation of biodiversity.
In other words, we are on our way to find out immediately if the tin can has mackerel or mackerel, if the forest plant has a medicinal profile, if a mosquito is the species that transmits malaria, if a certain herb is considered invasive in the European Union or, then, infer whether a particular fishery is sustainable based on the occurrence and distribution of fish larvae.
The largest consortium for biodiversity
“Through DNA barcodes, it is also possible to carry out large-scale assessments of the impact of environmental changes on the structure of ecosystems. This will allow humanity to generate enough information to formulate policies that protect global biodiversity”, says Filipe Costa. With the world losing species faster than they are discovered, scientists are turning to technology.
BIOSCAN is the second project launched by International Barcode of Life (iBOL), the largest consortium ever for biodiversity, which aims to study all multicellular species and ecoregions on the planet.
UMinho, through Filipe Costa, is the national representative. This person has already chaired the European section of the “Fish Barcode of Life” subproject and contributed in particular to the compilation of a library of DNA barcodes for marine life, detecting new species of fish and invertebrates from mainland Portugal, Azores, Madeira and other parts of Europe. He also coordinated a pilot project on the reliability of applying DNA codes in the identification of crustacean species.
The iBOL consortium – led by Paul Hebert, from the University of Guelph (Canada) – decided to start in 2010 a proposal for inventorying biodiversity based on DNA. The first phase of work lasted until 2015, with the Barcode 500K program, which generated DNA barcodes for 500 thousand species and had an investment of 125 million euros.
The second phase, with the BIOSCAN program, will analyze by 2026 the interactions between species and lay the foundations of a biodiversity monitoring network for the third phase, called Mission for Planetary Biodiversity, which aims to complete the total inventory of the life and implement a global biosurveillance system.
Author Communication, Information and Image Office – University of Minho
Science in the Regional Press – Ciência Viva