the identification of new species and provides benchmark measurements
for monitoring changes.
This second session of the conference introduced to the public methods
and new tools that scientists employ to map and assess biodiversity, both
locally and globally. Surveys of large plants and animals on land, in
freshwater and in the oceans have been relatively thorough (although
far from complete), while about smaller plants and animals, parasites,
and even more so, micro-organisms, relatively little is known. Much
improvement has been made with the advent of molecular techniques
that can be applied for discovering cryptic species, and for checking
whether morphologically similar ‘species’ are indeed different species.
While new molecular techniques have thus greatly improved our ability
to make species distinctions at the microscopic level, they are now also
being applied to vast data sets for analysis of environmental complexity
in the microbial world. Metagenomics represents a powerful new tool for
studying biodiversity at the microbial level.
within which one third of the area should be
actively protected.
Increasing loss
The second session of the conference was about
assessing and recording biodiversity on the
planet, as well as evidence of its increasing loss.
We are still limited in our understanding of the
nature and extent of Earth’s biodiversity on land,
as well as in the oceans. Most species of multi-
cellular, unicellular and micro-organisms have not
yet been described. Even approximate estimates
of global biodiversity are therefore premature,
although important progress is being made.
Molecular techniques
New molecular techniques and genetic
sampling of entire ecosystems provide
snapshots of ecosystem dynamics, which allow
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Molecular biology –
a human perspective
In 2011, the European Commission
and the European Molecular Biology
Laboratory (EMBL) signed a
memorandum of understanding, thus
formalising their desire to maintain and
further develop their co-operation, while
simultaneously demonstrating the
importance of molecular research at
both the science and policy levels. This,
coupled with the new framework programme Horizon 2020’s
multifaceted approach to healthcare, suggests an imminent
revolution in biomedicine, and it is here that molecular biology
will come to play a fundamental role.
Molecular biology, within the bioeconomy and, more
specifically, through the biomedical industry, has an
increasingly important role to play in tackling the challenges
posed by Europe’s ageing population.
Speaking at the INNOVAHEALTH conference in October 2012,
Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, whose remit is
research, innovation and science, argued: “We now live longer
in Europe – thanks to decades of investment, the excellence
of our researchers, and the innovative mindsets of our
companies. This is a wonderful achievement, but it presents
its own challenges.
“The ageing of Europe’s population means that the burden of
cancer as well as chronic and degenerative diseases is getting
heavier.We must find ways of meeting these healthcare
challenges while keeping our costs under control and our
healthcare systems running efficiently.At the same time, Europe’s
biomedical industry is reducing its investment in research.
“There are a number of reasons for this: there are long product
development cycles with high risks of failure, and regulatory
approval takes a long time.We are producing fewer new drugs
and at the same time, costs are escalating.”
“Finally,” she added, “the current economic situation means
that we have to stabilise the financial and economic system in
the short-term and take measures to create the economic
opportunities of tomorrow.”
In answer to these issues, the Commissioner revealed, Horizon
2020, the new European framework programme for research
and innovation, is designed to enable scientists to carry out
world class research that will have real impact and spark
innovations with excellent commercial possibilities.
“This,” Geoghegan-Quinn said, “will help us achieve the hat-trick
of keeping
us,
our healthcare systems, and our healthcare
industry and economy in good condition.”
“Inspired and encouraged by the success of the Innovative
Medicines Initiative,” she continued, referring to the
Commissions investment of €1bn investment in the IMI, “my
services are currently planning a new public-private partnership
for innovative health research as part of Horizon 2020.
“Like the IMI, this will be a partnership between industry and
the European Commission, aimed at keeping open the
development pipeline for new drugs and treatments in key
public health areas.”
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn,
Commissioner for
Research, Innovation
and Science
© European Commission 2013
MOLECULAR BIOLOGY
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