Ocean Genomics Horizon Scan

Prepared by

Summer 2019

About This Report

This Ocean Genomics Horizon Scan looks at ten significant threats to ocean health and highlights genomic or biotech opportunities for conservation. Marine ecosystems face new challenges, and wildlife biodiversity and abundance are experiencing dramatic declines. Both the pace and scale of threats to the ocean demand immediate innovation.

Revive & Restore’s mission is to enhance biodiversity through the genetic rescue of endangered and extinct species. In pursuit of this and in response to global threats to marine ecosystems, the organization conducted an Ocean Genomics Horizon Scan – interviewing almost 100 marine biologists, conservationists, and technologists representing over 60 institutions (Interview List Here). Each was challenged to identify ways that rapid advances in genomics could be applied to address marine conservation needs. The resulting report is a first-of-its-kind assessment of  highlighting the opportunities to bring genomic insight and biotechnology innovations to complement current and future marine conservation.

Our research has shown that we now have the opportunity to apply biotechnology tools to help solve some of the most intractable problems in ocean conservation resulting from: overfishing, invasive species, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, and climate change. This report presents the most current genomic solutions to these threats and develops 10 “Big Ideas” – which, if funded, can help build transformative change and be catalytic for marine health.

The Challenge

Ocean threats such as pollution and over-exploitation from a rapidly increasing human footprint are impairing the integrity of marine ecosystems. Climate change exacerbates nearly all of these threats and reaches parts of the ocean still relatively untouched from other anthropogenic effects. As a synergistic stressor, climate change-induced physical and chemical changes exacerbate more obvious threats.  Globally, oceans have absorbed more than 93 percent of heat and over 26 percent of carbon dioxide produced by anthropogenic sources, contributing to rising sea levels, more frequent disease outbreaks, acidification of seawater, increased mortality and decreased productivity of key species, and changes in the geographic distribution of many important fish stocks (Laffoley and Baxter 2016; Weatherdon et al. 2016). Well-documented threats to kelp forests and coral reefs, two critically important ecosystems that provide a broad range of valuable ecosystem services, are examples of the potentially catastrophic combined effects of climate change with other stressors.

GENOMICS FOR CONSERVATION

The pace and scale of biotech advances, as well as significant cost reductions, in the medical and agricultural sectors indicate significant potential to apply genomic tools to conservation challenges. However, unsurprisingly, there is a far stronger concentration in commercial opportunities such as livestock, crops, and medicines, and an absence of focused efforts on genomics for species that are priorities for biodiversity conservation perspective. 

Conservation initiatives featuring genomics in the marine environment are nascent but show tremendous promise. The lag is largely due to the lack of foundational research and the limited molecular tools available to ocean ecologists. In addition, while sequencing costs continue to plummet, it is expensive and difficult to mimic marine systems in  laboratory settings. Therefore, there is both a great need and a great opportunity to make investments in and contributions to building the genetic libraries and molecular tool kits used to understand microevolutionary processes driving durability and sustainability of ocean life.  

Advances in genomics can transform ocean conservation by providing genomic insight, but to do so requires foundational work— biobanking, sequencing, and investigating the genetic basis for traits.  Any solution set deploying genetic interventions for facilitated adaptation, controlling problem species, or engineering resilience will rely on the deeper understanding of the functional genomics of the target species. Read More

  

THE GENETIC RESCUE TOOLKIT

Genomic technology has the potential to advance and compliment conventional conservation management with precise genetic rescue. The Genetic Rescue Toolkit spans a continuum from “insight to intervention,” and can provide critical understanding of evolutionary processes that can better inform species conservation in a rapidly changing world. Read more about the tools of genetic rescue.

Who Decides

Fundamental to the implementation of genomic solutions is a careful consideration and engagement on the ethical, social and regulatory elements. Many disciplines (ethics, conservation, regulatory, and policy) across civil society must play a role in evaluating genomic solutions for ocean conservation. Read more about Who Decides. 

About Revive & Restore

This report was prepared by Revive & Restore, a nonprofit organization with a mission to enhance biodiversity through new techniques of genetic rescue for endangered and extinct species. Revive & Restore works with the world’s leading molecular biologists, conservation biologists, and conservation organizations to develop pioneering, proof-of-concept genetic rescue projects using cutting-edge genomic technologies to solve problems posed by inbreeding, exotic diseases, climate change, and destructive invasive species. Learn more.

Acknowledgements

STRATEGY & EDITORIAL OVERSIGHT: Ryan Phelan and Tom Maloney

CONSULTING AUTHORS: Tiffany Armenta, James Askew, Bridget Baumgartner, Andrea Bogomolni, Elif Demir-Hilton, Devaughn Fraser, Joe Getsy, Nick Holmes, Natalie Kofler, Maciej Maselko, Ben Novak, Hayley Nuetzel, Christopher Oakes, Heath Packard, Edward Perello, Anthony Rogers, and Kevin Webb.

EDITORIAL CONSULTANT: Patty Debenham

WEB DESIGN & COPY EDITING: Meghan Foley

GRAPHIC DESIGN & LAYOUT (EXECUTIVE SUMMARY): Seeger Creative, Inc.

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