Major scientific program BIOSCAN aims to provide data to address biodiversity loss, prompting international response
July 2, 2019

Prompted by sharp declines in biodiversity and the urgent need for scientific data to inform socioeconomic planning, the International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) has launched BIOSCAN, the newest phase of a 15-year research program that will transform our understanding of, and integration with global biodiversity.

The $180 million, seven-year program involving organizations in 40 nations launched on June 16 in Norway sparking interest from intergovernmental organizations and biodiversity platforms, and researchers everywhere.

“With this program we are going to be able to know so much more about our biodiversity,” said Ana Maria Hernandez, Chair of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES). “We can work to implement projects for a lot of things such as illegal trade, monitoring of our species, and more.”

BIOSCAN’s launch closely follows the release of IPBES’s Global Assessment Summary for Policymakers that found that species are disappearing more quickly now than at any other point in human history. The report states that one million species of plants and animals are currently facing extinction and concludes this biodiversity loss will have serious implications for the future of humanity.

“In a world where biodiversity is under threat, we need far more detailed information to take the actions required to avoid the looming loss of species that currently embellish our planet,” said Prof. Paul Hebert, Scientific Director, International Barcode of Life Consortium who developed the idea of DNA barcoding in 2003 as a way to rapidly catalogue and discover life on the planet. 

DNA barcoding has been aiding specimen identification and species discovery for 15 years, but millions of species await analysis. BIOSCAN will use new protocols and sequencing platforms to accelerate analysis and to do so at far lower cost than was possible with earlier technologies. It will analyze hundreds of millions of specimens from freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems around the world, detailing their interactions and distributions.

“Science has spoken loud and clear – on climate, on biodiversity, and on resources use.” says Dr. Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). “The world is at a cross-road and human civilization is potentially facing an existential threat from the combined negative impacts of climate change and ecosystems destruction, and the associated economic costs and social disruption. To act effectively, we need the best knowledge on the richness and distribution of biodiversity. BIOSCAN will help to roll out innovative technologies, transforming the way we manage natural resources.”

BIOSCAN aims to provide the data required to help governments, policymakers, private citizens, and companies plan to protect and non-destructively use biodiversity. Through iBOL’s data system, BOLD, governments and policymakers will soon have comprehensive and current data to begin planning for biodiversity protection.

“BIOSCAN will be a great aid in helping Parties to the CBD monitor biodiversity and initiate evidence-based management in all relevant sectors and will be a valuable contribution to our efforts of managing and mainstreaming biodiversity worldwide,” said Paşca Palmer.

BIOSCAN’s results are serving as the foundation for a DNA barcode reference library with records for every species of multicellular organism, enabling the activation of a DNA-based biodiversity observation system that tracks shifts in distribution and abundance of species on a planetary scale akin to the weather systems that alerted humanity to climate change.

“BIOSCAN has the potential to generate metabarcoding data at an unprecedented and global scale, enriching and balancing our taxonomic and geographic understanding of biodiversity, particularly the world’s flying insects,” said Dr. Joe Miller, Executive Secretary of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

GBIF, an international network and research infrastructure funded by governments and aimed at providing open access to data about all types of life on Earth, will work with iBOL to improve the discoverability and dissemination of critically important species-level data.

BIOSCAN research projects are already underway. A year-long assessment of insect biodiversity in South Africa’s Kruger National Park is nearing completion, and another team will soon survey biodiversity in Nunavut as part of Arctic BIOSCAN (ARCBIO) in partnership with Polar Knowledge Canada. Other researchers are launching Costa Rica’s BioAlfa, a massive national 10-year project that will involve people from all sectors to barcode inventory the nation’s million+ multicellular species. In partnership with its national government, BioAlfa is a project that has been in process since Canada’s Centre for Biodiversity Genomics invented DNA barcoding in 2003. More BIOSCAN projects and results will be announced soon.

“Biodiversity science is poised for revolutionary change,” said Hebert

Media Contacts:

International Barcode of Life Consortium

Hannah James
Manager – Media and Strategic Communications

The International Barcode of Life (iBOL) Consortium is a research alliance with a mission to develop and apply a globally accessible, DNA-based system for the discovery and identification of all multicellular life. Our vision is to illuminate biodiversity for the benefit of our living planet.

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