Europe has a very long and distinguished history in marine biological research. Its coastal marine biological laboratories are among the oldest in the world, with many being established in the 19th century. The rationale behind the establishment of the early marine laboratories, notably promoted by A. Dohrn in Naples and T.H. Huxley in Plymouth was to increase knowledge of the seas and life therein—vital to understand the sustainability of the fishing industry. There followed a proliferation of marine laboratories around the world including many in the USA. These sites provided access to the sea, marine organisms and the facilities to collect and study them in key ecologically important locations. The marine laboratories have hosted many scientists over the years to carry out research much of which has led to ground-breaking discoveries in fields as diverse as biomedicine, evolutionary science, and chemical and physical oceanography.

The oceans represent the largest set of ecosystems on Earth and harbour exceptionally high biological diversity. Of the 36 recognized phyla of living organisms, only 17 occur on land, whereas 34 occur in the sea. Marine organisms present an extraordinary variety of structures, metabolic pathways, reproductive systems and sensory and defence mechanisms. Efforts to understand this biodiversity have led to discoveries with important implications for the sustainable development of human society, for example in relation to advances in biomedicine, biotechnology, gene technology, food security, environmental issues and general ecosystem health—the Ecosystem Services Concept.

Fig. 1 EMBRC partners

A co-ordinated European marine biology infrastructure

Marine laboratories have been pivotal in uncovering the hidden potential of the marine environment through provision of platforms, equipment, expertise, resources and information. However, these marine laboratories have traditionally tended to operate rather independently as research infrastructures (RIs), providing stand-alone access to marine organisms, ecosystems and facilities for visiting and resident researchers. Marine laboratories have been pivotal in uncovering the hidden potential of the marine environment through provision of platforms, equipment, expertise, resources and information. However, these marine laboratories have traditionally tended to operate rather independently as research infrastructures (RIs), providing stand-alone access to marine organisms, ecosystems and facilities for visiting and resident researchers.

There is an urgent need to better coordinate these activities at the European level in order to address future demands for marine resources, to seize the opportunities presented by better understanding of marine systems and technological advances and to meet the challenges of increasing uncertainties about the changing marine environment.

What is the EMBRC?

The EMBRC is a developing pan-European marine biological infrastructure that aims to provide coordinated access to ecosystems, data, resources and facilities for academic researchers and industry. EMBRC partners recognize the critical and increasing importance of large scale international collaborative efforts to address the future major challenges of marine science. The primary aim is to provide essential access beyond that which will be possible through future infrastructure capabilities defined at the national level. A coordinated system of access at the European level has been agreed by the participating organizations as the most cost-effective and scientifically productive means of accommodating the future infrastructure requirements in marine biosciences, as also demonstrated by the success of major European RIs in related fields.

The provision of services by EMBRC will be centred around four core themes: Access to Ecosystems; Aquaria & Culture; ’Omics technologies, and Mobility of Researchers and User Access. The EMBRC Scientific Strategy Report (www.embrc.eu) describes how this distributed infrastructure will come about, the standards and services that it will provide, and how it will operate and evolve to establish a single entry point to European marine research infrastructure. Throughout the preparatory and construction phases member organizations are formalizing national and European agreements, establishing a searchable EMBRC database of facilities, platforms, organisms and services, and are taking the first steps towards standardization of databases.

EMBRC will provide access to ecosystems, model species, culturing and husbandry, largescale facilities and platforms as well as e-infrastructure and bioinformatics support.

Overlap and complementarity with related programmes and infrastructures will be addressed whilst working towards a single entry point to ensure that applicants access the most relevant facilities for their work. Sharing of aquaria and culture expertise and best practice guidelines will be set up and disseminated throughout the partner institutes. The coordination of ’omics tools and capability throughout Europe, and establishment of standards for design and analysis will be facilitated to provide a framework upon which ’omics approaches will be developed throughout the infrastructure. As well as services and facilities for Europe’s Horizon 2020 programme EMBRC will provide training for technical staff, early and established researchers and platforms for R&D SMEs. EMBRC will be a major asset in making Europe an attractive and highly competitive centre for marine biological research.

Nicolas Pade (nipa@mba.ac.uk) is EMBRC Technical Development Officer (WP2), and Colin Brownlee is Director of the Marine Biological Association.

CURRENT EMBRC PARTNERS

CNRS/University of Paris Marie Curie, France; Alfred Wegner Institute (AWI), Germany; Sven Lovén Institute, Sweden; Sars Institute, Norway; Naples Zoological Station, Italy; Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Greece and University of the Algarve, Portugal, plus the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and its bioinformatics node at Hinxton, UK (along with the other UK partners). The current UK partners are the Plymouth Marine Science Institutes (led by the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)); the University of St Andrews/Scottish Oceans Institute; and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). EMBL will provide the link to ELIXIR (a pan-European research infrastructure for biological information) and the BioImaging RIs.

Author

Nicholas Pade and Colin Brownlee

Category