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Marine Genomics Europe

Casting a Network in International Waters

Coordinating research at an international level has always given faster results. Marine Genomics Europe (MGE) was created in 2004 to oversee the work of over 118 research teams specialized in the evolution and biodiversity of marine species.


© D. Scornet/SBR-CNRS

The alga Ectocarpus silicosus, a new genetic model developed at MGE.

The Marine Genomics Europe (MGE) network of excellence (see box) was created March 1st, 2004, with a budget of €10 million over four years provided by the European FP6. The network, which coordinates all marine organism genetic research and oversees 45 research centers, including umbrella institutions CNRS and the University Paris-I, has its administrative center at the Roscoff Biological Station. Acting over 118 research teams in 16 countries,1 the MGE network now faces the challenge of consolidating its activities to be able to thrive beyond the FP6 four-year funding program.

The purpose of MGE is to elucidate questions about the evolution and biodiversity of species by examining algae, microorganisms, fish and shellfish, as well as a broader field called Evolution, Diversity, and Development (EDD). The network serves as a forum for marine genomics: “We provide the possibility for any institution or researcher to access training in the field of marine genomics,” explains MGE Scientific Project Assistant Manager Dr. Michèle Barbier. The network hosts postgraduate students with full scholarships, holds training workshops at participating centers, and has organized the first international conference in marine genomics scheduled for October 2006 in Italy. It also sponsors projects for the general public, such as a children's book on marine organisms, and a photography contest that led to a traveling exhibit.

Applications of MGE findings range from understanding the impact of climate change on biodiversity to the discovery of enzymes that could be useful in agribusiness, cosmetics, and other biotechnological industries. MGE is currently developing a new genetic model through the study of the Ectocarpus siliculosus, a filamentous brown alga found in temperate seas. Its life cycle is divided into two successive phases, the sporophyte (asexual generation) and the gametophyte (sexual generation), in a process called the alternation of generation. The presence of two complex multicellular organisms in one alga opens avenues for determining which genes control early development, and how a single cell becomes the complex multicellular organism that is brown macroalgae. A second rare characteristic of this alga is its resistance to copper, which makes it a helpful tool in deciphering the impact of abiotic pollution stress on algae–which can occur, for example, when heavy metals are present in industrial waste and become a threat to biodiversity.

MGE researchers use all molecular biology methodologies as well as proteomics, transcriptomics, and pharmacology. Among other improvements, the network grants them better access to advanced laboratory facilities. Researchers can initiate genome sequencing locally at the Roscoff Biological Station, for example, and then apply for additional funding to finish at the Genoscope (the French national sequencing center). This type of opportunity boosts the potential for excellence in research: “The critical mass is important, since one needs a sufficient number of researchers in order to get ahead,” comments MGE Scientific Project Manager Dr. Catherine Boyen. “A single team cannot do the job, so one needs an international consortium.” Teamwork has been carried out with leading centers such as the Genoscope and the US Joint Genome Institute, reaching as far as the Universidad de la Concepción in Chile. According to Dr. Boyen, these partnerships “let us think at an international level, notice complementarities, and increase visibility in the field.”


Melisande Middleton



European Networks of Excellence: a Roadmap

Europe's “networks of excellence” were launched in 2002 as part of the European Commission's Sixth Framework Program for Research and Technological Development (known as FP6). FP6 funds a selection of research institutions throughout Europe that choose to merge into networks, fostering cross-border cooperation between research teams. The program allocates funds over a four-year period that started in 2004, with the total FP6 budget reaching €17.5 billion, about 4% of the EU's budget. Priority is given to research endeavors that are in the framework of current policies and anticipate upcoming technological needs in Europe. The networks enhance competitiveness and innovation, forming an integrated European Research Area (ERA) that can become one of the world's leading R&D centers.

Notes :

1. Belgium, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.

Contacts :

> Dr. Michèle Barbier
> Dr. Catherine Boyen


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