Studying biodiversity, the headline topic at this year’s EMBL|EMBO Science and Society Conference, can mean spending long hours at a computer rather than hiking through rainforests or scouring the depths of the ocean.
In the second of our two-part podcast series on the topic, we explore how scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) are using bioinformatics to help identify and preserve the variety of life on our planet.
Stephane Riviere, a biodiversity bioinformatician in the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) team, explains how the ENA is helping scientists assign a name to every living thing on Earth – without repeating themselves or creating confusion – to build a ‘catalogue of life’ with 1.3 million species and counting.
Later in the podcast, EMBL-EBI team leader Sarah Hunter discusses the advantages of metagenomics, in which next-generation sequencing techniques allow scientists to analyse the genomes of species without having to grow them in the lab. With approaches that range from examining soil or ocean samples to collecting insect DNA from car windshields, this burgeoning field is helping to establish what life forms are out there – including ones previously unknown.
To be valuable, the immense volumes of data generated by such projects has to be accessible, in a manageable and useful way, to scientists in a variety of fields – it is Sarah, Stephane and many other bioinformaticians' mission to make it so.
13th EMBL|EMBO Science and Society Conference, Biodiversity in the Balance: Causes and Consequences, 9-10 November
European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) – provides a comprehensive record of the world's nucleotide sequencing information
Catalogue of Life – indexing the world's known species