EXPLORING THE GREEK BIO-HERITAGE

In the wider context of the European Research Area (ERA), the relevant priorities of the Seventh Framework (FP7) of the European Commission and in accord to the objectives of the Lisbon (2000) agenda, we are in the process of organizing a National Network for the Study of Microbial Diversity (NNSMD) in Greece.

The network is currently composed of thirteen premier scientific organizations, including major universities, governmental agencies, and research institutes, as follows: the Aristotle University of Thessalonica (AUTh), the Center for Research & Technology – Hellas (CERTH), the Foundation for Research & Technology – Hellas (FORTH), the Institute of Marine Biology of Crete (IMBC), the National Agricultural University (NAU), the University of Athens (UoA), the University of Crete (UoC), the University of Ioannina (UoI), the University of Thessaly (UTh) and the National Agricultural Research Foundation (NAGREF). Moreover, local genomics and bioinformatics private companies have also expressed strong interest and support.

This national network has a two-fold objective: first, the instigation of a pilot project, called MicroBioCosmos (MBC), that will enable the inter-disciplinary study of the microbial world in unique environments across the country; and second, the establishment of a new, distributed research Center, the National Center for BioProspecting (NCBP), which will initially include the above mentioned organizations.

The specific goals of the MicroBioCosmos project are: the creation of a regulatory and legal framework for the protection of the microbial natural wealth and biodiversity of the country, the formation of a national coordination action for the recording, analysis and appropriate exploitation of molecular riches, the formation of a distributed research Center, and the education of civic society about the environmental, economic and social impact of the rational management of our ‘invisible’, natural habitats.

The general aims of the Center involve: the expansion of existing know-how and proper use of public resources in research & development, the creation of new knowledge and intellectual property, and a key contribution for the management of entire ecosystems at the national level, using cutting-edge technology.

The applications of this unique, inter-disciplinary, multi-agency action are both broad and critical for the scientific agenda of Europe into the 21st century. They encompass (i) agriculture, food and aquaculture, (ii) energy production, biofuels and bioprospecting, (iii) management, protection and engineering of the environment, (iv) human health, prognostics and diagnostics, (v) biotechnology applications in thermostability, substance production, and protection from biopiracy and ultimately (vi) the deeper understanding of biochemical and geochemical processes through evolution and comparative genomics.

This effort can be considered as an exceptional example of a co-ordination action, both at the national and European levels, because of certain distinctive features of the Hellenic Basin and the Aegean Sea in terms of geothermal/seismic activity, plethora of micro-environments, a long coastline (one fifth of Europe’s total) and interaction with one of the richest florae and faunae in Europe. More precisely, the sub-surface habitats, coupled with thermal springs, an intricate set of glacial lakes and mountain ranges, the river systems and fertile plains of Northern Greece, the climatic variations from polar to sub-tropical temperatures and conditions, and, finally, the lagoons, coves and coastal environs constitute one of the most precious and complex ‘natural laboratories’ in European soil.

The study of habitats with modern technology, namely environmental sampling, shotgun sequencing, computational analysis and further, rational exploitation of knowledge and intellectual property through the formation of the proposed Center have the potential of transforming these natural riches into a solid foundation of national and European science, with an international acclaim and innumerable, unforeseen benefits for the citizens of Greece, the European Union and the entire planet.

Founding Committee, May 2006