On December 18th to 19th, 2018 at CIBIO Facilities in Vairão took place the international meeting of experts in which the implementation of eDNA techniques for environmental monitoring of water was discussed for the first time in Portugal.
The event was organized by EnvMetaGen together with the EDP Biodiversity Chair and the DNAqua-Net European network, and was attended by around 150 participants, including national and international researchers, companies and government entities. At the center of the debate were the opportunities and challenges of using molecular methods in national environmental monitoring programs for aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity. A press release, including interviews with speakers and participants was made in December 21st 2019 by CIBIO-InBIO and can be found in this link (in Portuguese). The press release has been translated below:
NEW ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING TECHNIQUES FOR PORTUGAL IN DEBATE IN CIBIO-INBIO
On December 18 and 19, CIBIO-InBIO hosted an international meeting of experts in which the implementation of eDNA techniques for environmental monitoring of water was discussed for the first time in Portugal.
The event organized by CIBIO-InBIO, in conjunction with the ERA Chair in Environmental Metagenomics (EnvMetaGen), together with the EDP Biodiversity Chair and the DNAqua-Net European network, was attended by around 150 participants, including national and international researchers , companies and government entities. At the center of the debate were the opportunities and challenges of using molecular methods – using DNA collected in the environment, the Environmental DNA (eDNA) – in national environmental monitoring programs for aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity.
According to the deputy director of CIBIO-InBIO and holder of the EDP Biodiversity Chair, Pedro Beja, this meeting served, first of all, to “show to government entities and companies how these technologies can be used to solve the challenges of environmental monitoring”. DNAqua-Net’s Chair, Florian Leese, adds that the event helped “to narrow the gap between those investigating and those using biomonitoring”, putting the different actors directly in the discussion of the advantages and challenges of the proposed new approaches.
Among the advantages and challenges of environmental DNA
Biodiversity and ecological quality assessment are key to the monitoring of aquatic ecosystems, legally established with the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD, 200/60 / EC). In this field, state-of-the-art DNA sequencing techniques have revealed great application potential and are expected to allow for lower cost monitoring, more reliable results and a better understanding of human impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems. However, the adoption of these new technologies in official monitoring programs has been slow.
During the two days dedicated to this theme, the necessary steps were identified to improve the application of these methods, overcoming technical, political and regulatory challenges. According to Pedro Beja, the main conclusions are that, “in the short term, pilot projects should be developed that apply, on the one hand, the conventional techniques currently used and, on the other hand, techniques based on molecular analyzes to compare and understand whether the new techniques are cost-effective and efficient, and how they can replace or complement existing ones”.
Nuno Fonseca, the holder of the ERA Chair, stresses that another important step in this context will be the EnvMetaGen project itself, and one of its initiatives, “to create a reference database at the national level”. “In order to get the most out of a potentially increased sensitivity of DNA-based methods in environmental species detection, it is important to know better the species in Portugal, an objective for which the database to be developed by EnvMetaGen will contribute” he explains.
To disseminate the good examples
A number of international guests, who shared case studies and also examples of good practice in implementing these new monitoring methods in different European countries, were one of the highlights of the event. Bernd Haenfling, a researcher at the University of Hull (UK), was one of the speakers. The specialist shared that this CIBIO-InBIO initiative is in line with what has happened in the UK. “Events that bring together the National Environment Agency, academia and other actors for joint work have been very useful and productive in setting up projects and bringing research under development closer to the expectations of different stakeholders” he said. Kristian Meissner of the Finnish Institute of the Environment presented an example of a project comparing traditional and molecular methods currently under way in the Scandinavian countries. Meissner stressed the importance of international cooperation in this type of work, which are “extremely important to promote the methodological transition”.
Portuguese examples of research using molecular techniques were also presented by the National Institute of Health Doctor Ricardo Jorge, by the University of Minho and CIBIO-InBIO. The event also had room for discussion on the current scenario in monitoring aquatic ecosystems in Portugal. Representing the Portuguese Environment Agency, Susana Nunes and Verónica Pinto contributed to the debate, addressing the context in which new techniques of molecular analysis can be integrated in the process of assessing the ecological quality of water bodies. “The main challenge is to comply with the provisions of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Water Act. Nevertheless, these new methods can be used in a complementary way to the monitoring and evaluation carried out under the WFD and River Basin Management Plans, “said Susana Nunes.
Next step: creating partnerships and projects
At the end of the event the balance was clearly positive. “The vast majority of participants had a vague idea of what environmental DNA monitoring techniques would be. Now they know what is being done in Portugal and in Europe in this area” said Pedro Beja, vice-director of CIBIO-InBIO. “The workshop has raised interest in the subject and the next step will be to create projects that demonstrate how these techniques actually solve the problems that different entities need to solve in this area. In this sense, CIBIO-InBIO will now seek to establish national and international partnerships” he adds.
On the corporate side, there seems to be openness to this. In the aftermath of the event Ana Maria Ilhéu, responsible for the Department of Environment and Spatial Planning of EDIA (Alqueva Development and Infrastructure Company), assumed that “these technologies may be useful for the ongoing monitoring programs” and, for that reason, it is time to “think about future projects”. Representing EDP Labelec, João Padua stressed that there is interest in exploring these new methodologies based on environmental DNA. With the collaboration of CIBIO-InBIO as a scientific partner in the process of applying these techniques, EDP hopes to achieve “greater frequency and greater spatial monitoring coverage” in its future work. This partnership is part of the EDP Chair in Biodiversity, awarded to the University of Porto and coordinated by CIBIO-InBIO. One of the objectives of the Chair, co-financed by EDP and the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), is to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of molecular methods in monitoring reservoirs of hydroelectric developments. In this context, CIBIO-InBIO will develop a set of scientific research dedicated to the management of environmental impacts and the conservation of biodiversity.