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BIOFLAME Research Programme

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The Biodiversity, Function, Limits and Adaptation from Molecules to Ecosystems (BIOFLAME) research programme, part of the British Antarctic Survey research strategy Global Science in an Antarctic Context (GSAC) 2005–2009


Biodiversity, Function, Limits and Adaptation from Molecules to Ecosystems (BIOFLAME)

Principal Investigator (acting) : Dr Pete Convey

The Challenge

BIOFLAME will study the DNA “fingerprints” of biological evolution to trace the way species adapt to environmental extremes . We will use state-of-the-art genomics technology to investigate the DNA of individuals, populations, natural communities and entire ecosystems, synthesising information across all these different scales of life.

Marine Biologist encounters a giant sponge nearly 20m below the surface.

We will take advantage of the unique natural features of Antarctica. These include the presence of some of the simplest biological communities on Earth, a well-understood geological history, physical isolation over evolutionary timescales, and an extreme climate that renders life particularly vulnerable to the effects of environmental change. While surveying gene sequences and their functions, we will assess the potential for commercial exploitation.

Objectives

  • Understand how the genomes of different species influence their responses to environmental variation and change at the level of individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems
  • Find out how climate change influences biodiversity and affects important ways the ecosystem functions within the Antarctic and globally
  • Determine the role of Antarctica and extreme environments in evolutionary change and the development of global biodiversity 

Relevance to Global Science

Antarctica presents a natural laboratory for the study of evolution. The combination of extensive snow and ice cover and harsh and variable climate means not much of the land area can sustain life. Communities of animals and plants consist of few species living in simple relationships. This makes it easier to determine how ecosystems are built and function. In contrast, the shelf seas of the Antarctic are the most thermally stable but extreme marine environment on Earth. The low temperatures, including the threat of freezing, and the long-term geographic isolation, have acted as a cradle for evolution, resulting in a rich and diverse ecosystem which is recognised as a primary source for the origin of deep ocean species. However, Antarctic marine species have adapted so effectively to this environment that they are now vulnerable to extinction as a result of global warming. 

Delivering the Results

We will use high-volume, high-throughput molecular biological approaches, especially DNA sequencing, DNA libraries and micro-array technology, on representative samples from the terrestrial and marine ecosystems on and around Antarctica. BIOFLAME will link to GEACEP, ACES and DISCOVERY 2010.

Component Projects

  • BIOFLAME-BIOPEARL: BIOdiversity dynamics: Phylogeography, Evolution And Radiation of Life
  • BIOFLAME-BIOREACH: BIOlogical Responses to Extreme Antarctic Conditions and Hyper-extremes