Aberdeen scientists in major European marine microbiome project

Professor Marcel Jaspars

SCIENTISTS from the University of Aberdeen who are working to develop life-saving antibiotics using ocean resources are taking part in a major European research project which aims to harness the full potential of the marine microbiome.

A microbiome is the community of microorganisms that can usually be found living together in any given habitat. The marine microbiome is one of the fastest growing segments of the so-called ‘blue bioeconomy’, and its study is vital for the discovery, understanding, protection and use of ocean resources.

The BlueRemediomics project, which was awarded funding through the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme, involves researchers from a range of universities and research organisations worldwide. Professors Abbe Brown and Marcel Jaspars, from the University’s School of Law and Department of Chemistry respectively, have received funding through the UKRI Horizon Europe Guarantee Fund to participate in this exciting collaboration.

Professor Jaspars is leading the use of genomic data for the discovery of new antimicrobial peptides (part of the innate immune response found among all classes of life) to target bacterial infections.

Meanwhile, Professor Brown is exploring innovative legal and policy approaches to improving access, protection, and governance of marine genetic resources and intellectual property rights.

Their involvement underlines the interdisciplinary nature of the project, which unites an international consortium of experts to work on the discovery and production of high value sustainable marine microbiome-based products, processes and services.

It also builds on their work in supporting negotiations at the United Nations on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Professor Jaspars said: “Through the BlueRemediomics project we are seeking to use genomics to discover new targeted antibiotics that target and disable pathogenic bacteria without affecting beneficial gut bacteria.

“An additional aim is to develop an ocean microbiome health index, which is important to ensure the right conservation measures can be put in place to ensure a healthy ocean that is biodiverse and reduces the impacts of climate change.”

Professor Brown said: “Our previous work in this area has involved a strong interdisciplinary element involving law and chemistry, which brings several advantages in terms of ensuring a holistic approach.

“Working as part of an international team, our ultimate aim is to discover new specific antibacterial agents and develop a globally applicable measure to assess the microbial health of the oceans.”

BlueRemediomics project co-coordinator Robb Finn, Microbiome Informatics Team Leader and MGnify PI at EMBL-EBI, commented: “Marine microbes have evolved to exploit and reuse both natural and artificial resources that they encounter in their relatively nutrient-poor environment – this can be as simple as a single enzyme, or involve a series of processes involving different species.

“The BlueRemediomics project will exploit existing data to help identify such processes and enable us to derive new biobased solutions for reducing waste or for bioremediation.”

Chris Bowler, Director of Research at CNRS, is also a co-coordinator on the project. He said: “Marine microbial communities represent a vast unexploited treasure trove of bioresources that have the potential to strengthen the European blue economy.

“For example, to safely carry out aquaculture – the farming of our oceans – it is vital that we expand our understanding of the roles played by marine microbes for ocean health.

“The BlueRemediomics project will establish a Microbiome Health Index for monitoring marine environments, thus allowing us to promote healthy microbiome approaches and strategies in aquaculture in line with the ‘do no significant harm’ principle.”

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