Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

H2020

BIG4 Report Summary

Project ID: 642241
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BIG4 (BIG4 - Biosystematics, Informatics and Genetics of the big 4 insect groups: training tomorrow's researchers and entrepreneurs)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

BIG4 is a network to train a new generation of researchers to explore the biggest chunk of Earth biodiversity, the four mega-diverse insect orders: beetles; bees, wasps, ants; flies and mosquitoes; as well as butterflies and moth. It amalgamates the cutting edge methods of genomics, phylogenetics, informatics, taxonomy, semantic biodiversity publishing and citizen science into a cross-disciplinary training programme for 15 ESRs with a stronghold in biosystematics. By now all ESRs are in place working on their PhD projects. One ESR who completed one year project with BIG4 already secured a permanent employment at the Canadian National Insect Collection as a curator of the biggest family of beetles. Current 15 BIG4 ESRs extend the exploration of the four biggest groups of living organisms in a forward looking way that has not been attempted before. The urgent focus on the “big four” insect groups is justified by the super abundance of this form of Life, and by the growing need by science and society to make better use of the enormous potential of that biological diversity. By integrating academia with the business and public sectors, BIG4 greatly increases services and beneficial products provided by the biosystematics as a science. BIG4 begun to place insect mega-diversity as a powerful service for economic and societal needs such as environmental monitoring, biological control, biomedicine, or ecological farming.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

So far BIG4 has: 1) Fulfilled all preparatory work of the network before all ESRs are hired; 2) Recruited all ESRs; 3) Created a network web site to serve as a communication platform http://big4-project.eu/; 4) Held a kick-off meeting for the network at Copenhagen associated with the workshop on museum collections management; 5) Got all ESR projects going and the entire network functioning according to the proposed milestones and deliverables plan; 6) Held the first summer school workshop at the nature resort at Czech Republic devoted to taxonomy and field techniques; and 7) held the second summer school workshop on phylogenetics, genomics, citizen science and entrepreneurship in Stockholm in October 2016 in connection with the midterm review.
This work took place at the crossroads of several Workpackages: Workpackage 1, Big data sets assembly and compatibility for biosystematics, had begun data accumulation. Some ESRs are getting experience with extractions of massive DNA data from the suboptimally preserved museum insect specimens, with first samples of Lepidoptera. Other ESRs have begun genomic data assembly for a taxon-based and bulk sample-based projects. This involved learning programming and de novo genome assembly for large-scale phylogenetic data. A few ESRs get data from complex morphologies of their study insect groups, preparing them for integration in phylogeny.
Work package 2, Statistical phylogenetic analysis, brings fast developing field of statistical phylogenetics into the efficient study of big insect groups. Statistical phylogenetics underlies almost every ESR project in BIG4, and the WP2 already had led to development of a basic online training package in RevBayes software. Several ESRs run their first phylogenetic analyses and a few of them participated in a large collaborative dated phylogenetic analysis of the entire insect Order Coleoptera. Work package 3, Genomics, exposes ECRs to the possibilities offered by genomics and next-generation sequencing techniques in biosystematics projects. At present, ERA7 has developed a strategy and infrastructure for cloud-based data sharing. Several ESRs explore Next Generation Sequencing opportunities to get phylogenetically informative markers across their various target taxa, either traditionally preserved museum-based specimens or properly preserved modern DNA-tissues. Work package 4, Citizen-science and informatics for biodiversity, led to the development of the DINA-Specify and ‘The Naturalist’ online training packages. SME Savantic-based ESR has generated an image collection of wings for a large and popular group of wasps that will be used for developing a mobile identification app for citizen scientists. Work package 5, Semantic publishing, outreach and dissemination, led by PENSOFT is on the way of modernizing workflow for publishing huge biodiversity data about four biggest insect groups. The core development of semantic publishing is an Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management System (OBKSM) which by now is well underway with a prototype of the system already working. The work package 6, Management, provided a frame for smooth implementation of BIG4 research, training and outreach. In mid January 2015 all Beneficiaries and a representative from Partners held a business meeting at the UCPH, where a EU Liaison officer Katrine Vendelboe informed all participants about rules and regulations. The Supervisory Board has been formed for the network and plans for the project logo, web site, ESR position announcements, hiring process and kick-off meeting have been tuned based on the GA. All necessary amendment to the GA has been taken care of at the business meeting. From February 2015 Beneficiaries announced ESR positions following procedures outlined in the GA and, altogether, the network received nearly 300 applications that were screened, shortlisted and relevant candidates interviewed. With only a couple of exceptions best applicants were hired as ESRs with starting dates of their contracts varied from March 2015 (FSU Jena) to November 2015 (UCPH). Finally, the work package 7, Network-wide training events, included the above mentioned BIG4 Kick Off meeting and workshops.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Research methods employed in BIG4 go beyond the state-of-the-art by covering a wide methodological spectrum of modern, innovative approaches in biosystematics. WP 1 and WP 2 interacted with WP3 centered on genomics, and especially such novel aspect as DNA extraction from the suboptimally preserved museum insect specimens bringing an amazing legacy of museum collections in the area of fast developing insect phylogenomics. WPs 4 and 5 went much beyond traditional biosystematics and acted as a link between biosystematics and other fields of science, and society. As can be seen in publications BIG4 has extended and modified recent methods for morphology capture from fossil specimens. We expect potential commercial applications of genomics-related ESR activities. We also expect to develop protocols for scanning electron microscopy (SEM), confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM), and micro-computed tomography (μCT) relevant for the study of rare type specimens, rock and amber fossils where destructive examination is prohibitive. Much of our biodiversity knowledge is based on citizen-science efforts. However, biosystematics of the “big four” rarely benefit from citizen-science due to the lack of easily accessible information on these groups. By the end of the project, however, in WP 4, BIG4 will explore citizen science much better especially with a mobile app developed within the project.

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