BIOSCAN: Progress Towards Planetary Biosurveillance
Paul Hebert, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics & Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph
Date/time: 11am on November 22, 2019
Location: DC 1302
Abstract: We share this planet with millions of multicellular species, most unknown. In a wild world, their curation would be unnecessary, but human activities are placing many species at risk. As well, global trade is dispersing species, creating serious ecological and economic damage. Improved biodiversity management demands a global surveillance system, and the science community is mobilizing to meet this goal. Earlier this year, organizations in 30 nations launched BIOSCAN, a 7-year, $180 million research program with three primary goals. It will automate species discovery by processing DNA sequence arrays with algorithms based on simple rule sets. It will transform understanding of species interactions by using DNA sequences to reveal hidden associations. Finally, it will employ DNA to map species distributions with unprecedented scale and resolution. BIOSCAN is establishing centralized facilities that employ DNA sequencing, digital imaging, robotics, and computational hardware to support regimented data collection. The resultant files provide a georeferenced, time-stamped collection record for each specimen combined with high resolution image(s) and DNA sequence(s). Experts currently oversee key QA/QC steps, but global biosurveillance will require a 1,000-fold increase from current production levels, creating the need for ‘thinking machines’ to replace human-mediated decisions. BIOSCAN is itself the antecedent for a 20-year research program, the Planetary Biodiversity Mission that will operationalize an earth observing system for biodiversity. Look forward to a future where biotic forecasts aid the protection of food production systems and human health while also fostering global sustainability and conservation efforts.
Biography: Paul Hebert is an evolutionary biologist at Guelph where he holds a Canada Research Chair in Molecular Biodiversity and is Director of its Centre for Biodiversity Genomics. After obtaining his PhD (Cambridge University), he held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Sydney and the Natural History Museum (London) before taking up a faculty position at Windsor. He subsequently served as Director of its Great Lakes Institute, as Chair of the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, as Chair of Zoology at Guelph, and was founding Director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario. His research employs DNA-based approaches to advance understanding of life’s diversity. His nearly 500 publications have attracted more than 70,000 citations, and he has trained more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Hebert has served as Scientific Director of the International Barcode of Life Consortium since its establishment in 2010. This 30+ nation alliance completed its first major research program, BARCODE 500K, in 2015 and just launched its second, BIOSCAN. Hebert is an Officer in the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and holds three honorary degrees, one from Waterloo. He has received several national and international awards including the 2018 Heineken Prize for the Environment.
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