BioMarKs integrates 10 EU research institutes and 30 EU experts in eukaryotic microbial taxonomy and evolution, marine biology and ecology, genomics and molecular biology, bioinformatics, as well as marine economy and policy, to assess the taxonomic depth, environmental significance, human health and economical implications of the least explored biodiversity compartment in the biosphere: the unicellular eukaryotes or protists.
Marine protists are microbial organisms which may build complex (in)organic skeletal structures. They profoundly impact biogeochemical cycles and climate; they have complex genomes with thousands of genes producing molecules which influence marine ecosystem functioning, human health and economy, and which represent outstanding potential for future green energies, pharmaceutics and chemical industries.
BioMarKs will assess protist biodiversity at 3 depths (subsurface, deep-chlorophyll maximum, surface sediment) in 9 EU coastal water sites from Spitzbergen to the Black Sea using massive rDNA sequencing (454 sequencing technologies). We will use both rDNA and reverse transcribed rRNA general eukaryote and group-specific markers, in order to analyze both diversity and abundance/activity of marine protists at different taxonomic levels. A suite of physical, chemical, and biological metadata from the same samples will allow statistical analyses of the ecological forces shaping marine protist biodiversity.
This general strategy will be used to:
- establish a baseline of protist biodiversity in EU coastal waters,
- measure biodiversity change in marine protist communities facing ocean acidification,
- evaluate the impact of ballast water and pollution on marine protist biodiversity
In addition BioMarKs will provide baseline data and new methods for future surveys of marine biodiversity change and for evaluation of its ecological and economic cost. The data retrieved in the frames of BioMarKs will become the largest world community resource on marine unicellular eukaryotic biodiversity, providing a reference platform for current and future projects dealing with this important biodiversity compartment, and elevating the European community to the forefront of marine eukaryote microbial ecology.
In terme of policy, the BioMarKs database and associated tools will be direct relevance in several EU legislative framework, including:
- Marine transport regulation: The discharge of ballast water is a major pathway for the transfer of alien aquatic species and potentially harmful organisms and pathogens around the world.
- Coastal management and tourism: Coastal zones are typically areas of intense human activity and are important in diverse economic and societal contexts. Most of this activity impacts the coastal environment, notably in terms of water quality.
- Sea food safety: Various toxins produced by marine protists can accumulate in larger organisms such as fish and molluscs and can ultimately affect both marine metazoan and human consumers. BioMarKs will provide new molecular methods and database tools which will be particularly useful for the management of these three issues.
BioMarks will allow estimation of the global ocean eukaryotic genomic diversity, and will lay the foundation for taxonomically controlled eukaryotic metagenomics. The database created during the project will become a reference for scientists and end-users for years. In addition, the immense and unexplored repertoire of protist genes will be potentially an outstanding source of innovation for green energies, pharmaceutics, cosmetics, and nanotechnology for the next years.