Experts warn of threats to 'high potential' marine genetic resources

Adelino Canário, from CCMAR, is one of the authors of an article written by international experts

The genetic resources present in different marine organisms "have a high potential for biotechnological applications with commercial interest" which is being put at risk due to various threats "from overexploitation, loss and degradation of habitats, pollution and the impact of climate change" , warned a group of international experts, including Adelino Canário, director of the Center for Marine Sciences (CCMAR) in the Algarve.

The researcher and professor at the University of Algarve, institution with which CCMAR is associated, is one of the authors who contributed to an article published on the 17th on “The Oceanic Genome: conservation, fair, equitable and sustainable use of marine genetic resources”, which will set the tone for a webinar next Friday, the 24th of April, in which interested parties can register following this link.

Adelino Canário and Narcisa Bandarra, a researcher at the Instituto Português do Mar e da Atmosfera, who also signed the article, represent Portugal in the group of experts at the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, which comprises 14 countries and is actively working to find solutions to the various problems facing the Ocean.

“The ocean genome is the foundation on which all marine ecosystems are built. Marine life is incredibly diverse, comprising a minimum of 2,2 million species, and it is estimated that 90% remain unknown”, illustrated CCMAR.

“In addition to its enormous wealth and biodiversity, rapid advances in sequencing and bioinformatics technologies have allowed for the exploration of the ocean genome. These new discoveries bring innovative approaches to conservation and a growing number of commercial applications using biotechnology, from anti-cancer treatments to cosmetics and industrial enzymes”, according to the Algarve research centre.

Despite this great potential, the ocean genome is "threatened by the overexploitation of resources, the loss and degradation of habitats, pollution, the impacts of climate change, invasive species and other pressures, or by the cumulative and interaction effects between various of these factors'.

The article the two Portuguese researchers helped to write “takes a holistic approach to the issue, analyzing our understanding of the genetic diversity of ocean life, the threats to that diversity, the benefits it offers in the context of a changing world and the tools and approaches to protect it. It also establishes the need for greater equity through capacity building and the promotion of inclusive innovation and accessible technologies”.

The authors "propose a series of guidelines to ensure intelligent conservation and argue that only in this way will it be possible to implement a sustainable economy of the oceans, based fundamentally on conservation, and emphasize the importance of making available the results of this research, with the production of tools and approaches that guarantee justice in the sharing of these benefits».

For CCMAR, the fact that the United Nations is currently discussing "at the highest level" biodiversity in areas outside national jurisdiction, this will be an opportunity to place on the agenda of policymakers and decision-makers the urgent need to ensure that the ocean genome is protected and set in motion the recommendations of experts, so that the benefits that flow from it for humanity are distributed to all.

“The proposals left by the experts go towards creating marine protected areas, covering 30% of the oceans; support greater equity in genomics research and knowledge transfer; ensure that intellectual property standards support this purpose of balancing and sharing knowledge; assess risks and benefits of new molecular biology technologies and practices applied to the marine environment; and, finally, to demand greater financial and political support in order to improve knowledge of the ocean genome and its sharing”, concluded the Algarve research centre.

The article is part of a series of 16 Blue Papers, which will be published by June 2020 and which summarize the latest scientific innovations on innovative ocean solutions in the areas of technology, policy, governance and finance.