BIOSCAN launches at iBOL Conference 2019

Trondheim, Norway

June, 2019

The 8th International Barcode of Life Conference was held in Trondheim, Norway, 17-20 June 2019, hosted by the NTNU University Museum, the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre and NorBOL.

The iBOL conference takes place every two years and is a major international event, bringing together researchers and practitioners working in all the diverse fields that DNA barcoding and metabarcoding have impacted. This year’s conference brought together 450 participants from 61 nations, including 384 presenting authors.


Key Conference Research themes

As noted by Torbjørn Ekrem and his colleagues, the conference showcased several significant themes. One of these was the leading role being taken by Norway in developing barcoding solutions and the relevance of these efforts to understanding biodiversity and monitoring the environment in sensitive polar regions.
One result of the investment that has been made globally in developing the DNA barcode reference library and the associated tools offered by the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) has been the rapid take-off of metabarcoding approaches as a tool to probe species diversity in natural systems via bulk samples and environmental DNA. Many presenters at this year’s conference showed how metabarcoding has enabled them to monitor endangered or invasive species or to explore community richness, ecosystem health and responses to stress. Advances both in high-throughput sequencing platforms and in analytical approaches guarantee that such uses will become increasingly mainstream, although much more work is needed to expand the coverage of the barcode reference library and to improve protocols for challenging environments and taxonomic groups. Many of the studies and applications presented offer the prospect of benefits of wider importance to society. Most obviously, improved understanding of biodiversity patterns and distinctiveness will facilitate improved conservation planning and land-use decisions, but speakers and posters also repeatedly addressed monitoring of disease vectors, pest management, and certification of commercial products.

All abstracts from the conference have been published as a special issue of Genome. 170 of the posters can be also accessed online.

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The conference hosts evaluated 120 oral and poster presentations by students and post docs and awarded eleven prizes.

Launch of BIOSCAN

The 2019 conference was the venue for the launch of BIOSCAN, iBOL’s new seven-year scientific program. Paul Hebert presented the vision for this program which will reveal species, their interactions, and dynamics. BIOSCAN will build on the success of the BARCODE 500K program (2010-2015) by (1) increasing the coverage to the barcode reference library to at least two million species and by (2) exploiting the power of new sequencing platforms to survey species communities at thousands of sites across different ecosystems and to (3) probe the biotic associations of millions of individual organisms.



Revealing species, their interactions and dynamics

Species Discovery

Assemble a DNA barcode reference library with records for each of the 20 million species of multicellular organisms which share our planet

Species Interactions

Detail the nature and intensity of interactions among all species to clarify their role in structuring biological communities

Species Dynamics

Establish a DNA-based observation system that tracks the shifting distribution and abundances of species on a planetary scale

These three components together lay the foundations for a global DNA-based monitoring system for biodiversity, by providing cost-effective ways for individual organisms anywhere to be identified to species, for species to be mapped through time and space, and for the associations between species to be revealed. The Global Malaise Program will be a core activity within BIOSCAN, enabling sampling of many poorly recorded insect groups. Other sampling schemes will be adopted to survey other groups and ecosystems.

Through upgrades to technology and refinements to protocols, the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics in Guelph aims in the next couple of years to reduce the cost for processing a single specimen to drop below $1, for processing the symbiome (all species associated with a specimen) to $5 and for sequencing all species in a bulk sample to $100. As these advances are made, barcoding and metabarcoding will be by far the most efficient way to survey and monitor many aspects of biodiversity.

Messages and Highlights from the Keynote speakers

Each of the four keynote presentations delivered at the conference provided a complementary perspective that further reinforces the importance of iBOL’s work and the benefits that can be expected from BIOSCAN.

Dan Janzen (BioAlfa – to DNA barcode an entire tropical country for the survival of its biodiversity) reviewed the development of Costa Rica as a country committed to bioliteracy and how barcoding has been adopted as a fundamental component in the country’s plan to understand the natural treasures it contains. This builds on decades of work by researchers and parataxonomists centred on the Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG). Costa Rica has demonstrated a model for adoption by other megadiverse countries and one that the BIOSCAN program is well positioned to support for the benefit of each country and for the planet.

Nancy Knowlton (Censusing Coral Reefs in the 21st Century) reviewed the challenges we face and progress made in understanding the true extent of reef biodiversity. Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) have been deployed in coral reefs around the world, acting as passive collectors of sessile organisms, small organisms and fish. Every one of these units shows the presence of hundreds of species, the majority of which cannot be matched to described taxa, often even at the phylum level. This serves to emphasise both the need for much more work to populate the barcode reference library for marine species and to survey reef ecosystems to understand the scale and complexity of these threatened systems

Columban de Vargas (GO-SEE: Global Ocean Systems Ecology & Evolution) presented the work of the interdisciplinary team on the schooner Tara to explore Earth’s plankton ecosystem. The findings from the Tara Oceans data derive primarily from metagenomics and metabarcoding efforts, supported with imaging technologies. Plankton diversity is significantly higher than previously understood and the greatest diversity is found among unicellular eukaryotes (protists). Physico-chemical parameters fail to explain most of the patterns detected, leading to the conclusion that poorly understood biotic interactions are central to the structure and dynamics of this ecosystem.

Junko Shimura (Overview of the outcomes of UN Biodiversity Conference 2018 and Q&A in relation to DNA barcoding) provided a complementary perspective, explaining how iBOL and DNA barcoding relate to the actions of the Convention for Biodiversity (CBD) to promote life in harmony with nature. Key current linkages include collaboration under the Global Taxonomy Initiative to support training in DNA barcoding as a capacity enhancement activity for the Parties to the CBD, and voluntary guidance for states to use barcoding as a tool to monitor invasive alien species. iBOL will continue to develop its important relationship with the CBD to ensure that the benefits from barcoding and metabarcoding benefit stakeholders in all regions.

Meeting of the SCience COmmittee

The iBOL Science Committee (SC) and iBOL Board of Directors met alongside the conference to advance thinking around the delivery of BIOSCAN. These discussions identified major elements for inclusion within a strategic plan for the program. This plan must address several major themes:

  • An inclusive global community of practice with the skills and linkages needed to survey and monitor all species via barcoding and metabarcoding.
  • World-class infrastructure for low-cost sequencing and bioinformatics to support global-scale biodiversity monitoring.
  • Efficient and reproducible approaches for DNA-based sampling and monitoring of all eukaryotic groups in all ecosystems.
  • Data and knowledge products that maximise the ability of science and society to explore and interpret species richness and patterns of biodiversity.
  • Sustainable and persistent operation of core infrastructure and preservation of samples, DNA and data from barcoding and metabarcoding activities.

Within each of these areas, there are challenges to address around increasing engagement within more countries across more stakeholder groups, developing or improving protocols and standards for all taxa and ecosystems, and collaborative efforts to secure the estimated $180 million in funding required for the program globally.

Over the next few months, the SC and Board will develop a draft plan and will seek input from the iBOL community to maximise its relevance and value as a tool for coordinated international effort. The wealth of activity presented and the vibrant discussions around the 2019 conference make clear that this program is well-timed and urgently needed. BIOSCAN sets the immediate agenda with the promise of many new advances to showcase at the next iBOL conference to be held in Costa Rica in 2021.

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