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Big data to prevent species extinction

Priming the Biodiversity Genomics Center Cologne – BioC² – to assess our ecosystems in their genomic biodiversity / Ecosystem-wide genome data will help to understand how the communities of different species function and how ecosystems react to environmental changes

Junior Professor Dr Ann-Marie Waldvogel and Emmy Noether research group leader Dr Philipp Schiffer on the researchship of the University of Cologne| Foto: Ludolf Dahmen, University of Cologne

Junior Professor Dr Ann-Marie Waldvogel and Dr Philipp Schiffer take samples from the river Rhine | Foto: Ludolf Dahmen, University of Cologne

An interdisciplinary team of scientists led by Junior Professor Dr Ann-Marie Waldvogel and Dr Philipp Schiffer, Emmy Noether research group leader, has come together to lay the foundation for BioC² - the Biodiversity Genomics Center Cologne. Funded by the Excellent Research Support Program of the University of Cologne, the project aims to interconnect infrastructures and pool competences to make genomic assessment of biodiversity feasible at the scale of entire ecosystems. The team links the Department of Biology and the Regional Computing Center (RRZK) of the University of Cologne (UoC) with the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (MPI-PZ) and the West German Genome Center (WGGC), represented by the Cologne Center for Genomics (CCG).

The global biodiversity crisis poses enormous challenges to politics and society. Nature conservation and the protection of species are becoming increasingly important in order to ensure the preservation of healthy ecosystems as they also form the basis of life for humankind. Science plays a role in understanding biodiversity, its dynamics and the causes of its threat. Biodiversity genomics is becoming a key subject of life sciences. The decoding of genomic diversity of natural populations, species and ecological communities creates fundamental knowledge of the function of biological systems. Research thus improves our understanding of how our ecosystems can respond to the anticipated environmental change of global transformation.

“Genomic data can be enormously helpful to predict the resilience of our ecosystems to environmental changes. However, we need genomic resources for hundreds of species from a respective habitat to do so. Optimizing and automating processes is the only way how we will be able to generate this data quickly and cost-effectively enough,” Junior Professor Dr Ann-Marie Waldvogel explains. “New data is incredibly valuable in capturing biodiversity and studying adaptations to extreme environmental conditions. This is shown, among other studies, by our current genome analysis of a 46,000-year-old nematode thawed from the Siberian permafrost,” Dr Philipp Schiffer adds.

In preparation for this project, the researchers have already generated the first two genomes as part of a European-wide pilot study – a native alga and ant species from Germany. Since 1st of July 2023, the team including three students has been building up the biodiversity genomic platform to process samples and data most effectively and finally release genomes publicly. Over the next two years, the team will record ecologically important freshwater species as case studies within an ecological long-term research study of Germany's largest inland waterway, the River Rhine. This does not only contribute to establishing the structure of BioC² but it also creates important genomic resources for the biodiversity of our domestic rivers, which so far has not been sufficiently explored.

Media Contact:

Junior Professor Dr Ann-Marie Waldvogel

Institute of Zoology

+49 221 470 5294

Dr Philipp Schiffer

Institute of Zoology

+49 221 470 3238

Press and Communications Team:

Jan Voelkel

+49 221 470 2356

Further information:

Articles on genomics in protection of species:

‘How genomics can help biodiversity conservation’