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ENRICH/Local Contexts & BIOSCAN/CBG Meeting Reflections

Written by Dominik Bednarczyk

On May 5th, I went to a meeting between the ENRICH/Local Contexts and BIOSCAN/CBG teams to foster cooperation and sharing of new movements with the industry of Biodiversity Genomics. The meeting was held at the University of Guelph’s Center for Biodiversity Genomics, and we got to stay the night at the Delta Hotel right across the street. After arriving late on Thursday night, I was preparing questions and research for tomorrow’s events.

We started the day at 8:00 am with a meet and greet in the meeting room. There were several notable researchers interested in expanding their work into the biodiversity data sector.  Our first activity was a tour of the University of Guelph’s Center for Biodiversity Genomics, starting with a look at the insect library from the BIOSCAN project. This library of specimens has over 9 million insects. Some have been cataloged, identified, and have had their genome sequenced, and others are in queue to join them. The project’s purpose is to catalog the world’s biodiversity and study the movements, habitats, and population dynamics of invertebrates around the globe. They also lease these specimens out to taxonomists and museums for display and study. We were shown the genetics labs where the sequencing and imaging happen. A lot of the process has been automated with special microscopes and sequencing machines like the sequel II

Photo of an insect collection. Insects of various size and type are arranged on a white board inside a wooden case with a glass top.
Example of collection from the BIOSCAN project University of Guelph’s Center for Biodiversity Genomics insect library. (Photo credit: Dominik Bednarczyk)
Photo of an insect collection. Insects of various size and type are arranged on a white board inside a wooden case with a glass top.
Example of collection from the BIOSCAN project University of Guelph’s Center for Biodiversity Genomics insect library. (Photo credit: Dominik Bednarczyk)

After the tour, we had a nice lunch nearby before getting started with the presentations. The first presentation was on the BOLD and mBRAVE informatics platform. The presentation started with the Barcode of Life Data system, or BOLD. It broke down how this DNA repository is taking a bold leap forward compared to others by not just being a storage and search engine but applying tools to help taxonomists identify species that have been mislabeled as related or unrelated. It pushes data sharing between researchers and repositories to aid in conservation and research. As well as an in-progress tool that would be accessible for classrooms and the public to use for species identification and education about biodiversity and DNA. The Multiplex Barcode Research and Visualization Environment (mBRAVE) was the second part of the presentation and is a new project that allows researchers to visualize and analyze DNA barcoding data. Its primary purpose is to enable researchers to efficiently process and interpret large-scale datasets generated through multiplex barcoding techniques. It is built as a convenience tool to make it easy to create graphs, charts, and phylogenetic trees to study the relationships between species and analyze patterns of genetic diversity.

The second presentation was information on the project the WDS-ITO will be assisting with. The ENRICH local contexts project creates a system of labels for Indigenous communities to be able to properly claim research that used traditional knowledge or data taken from the community. The project supports sustainability and conservation, helping to identify best practices and continuing the push for more ethical research practices especially when dealing with Indigenous territory. The project allows Indigenous communities to be involved in research if they choose and create an easy way for them to identify their contributions and for other researchers to be able to more easily follow up on information used in the study. Currently, these labels are a type of metadata that doesn’t belong to any of the currently used standards. I hope that I can help integrate these labels into a currently used metadata standard in biodiversity. Some have already been investigated and don’t have the proper framework to include these traditional knowledge labels. 

After these presentations, there was a discussion about the topics where many members of the meeting talked about collaboration and the future of the industry. There were concerns about climate change and data storage with how much power each byte takes and how much storage we can create moving up to terabytes of data. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go too in-depth with our discussion since people had planes to catch. Those that stayed enjoyed an amazing dinner at La Cucina, an Italian restaurant. The food was incredible, and it was made even better by the small history lesson about Guelph’s ties to the mafia during the prohibition era of American history. Al Capone frequented Guelph during his heyday because some of his mistresses lived up here. With that, the day came to a close and we walked on a short tour of Guelph before returning to the hotel and departing for the weekend.

Overall the whole experience gave me insight into the methods and challenges of the global biodiversity research field. I was able to see new and upcoming technologies and talk to some incredible researchers that have been working to create a better, more inclusive, and sustainable research network. The discussions made me consider things I usually wouldn’t give a second thought; such as the exponentially increasing carbon emissions created by our data stores and servers that will overtake fossil fuels in the near future at our rate of expansion. I came out of the meeting hopeful and fearful for our future but confident in the field I want to pursue and the people who are working to improve it.

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