Conservation supported by genomics research
A series of projects using genomic cutting-edge research on local flora and fauna marks “a significant step forward in Bermuda’s biodiversity conservation efforts”.
Bioquest, a philanthropic NGO powered by CariGenetics, will focus on Bermuda’s signature species, with an aim to create local genetic research capacity.
A launch event at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo on Saturday evening featured presentations by Carika Weldon, founder and chief executive of CariGenetics, and Jean-Pierre Rouja, the newly appointed director of BioQuest.
Dr Weldon, said: "The launch of BioQuest is a pivotal moment for us at CariGenetics. It represents our commitment to extending our research beyond human genetics to the rich biodiversity and conservation efforts of Bermuda.
“I am thrilled to introduce Jean-Pierre Rouja as the director of BioQuest. His expertise and passion for conservation technology, and experience working with many of the target species, make him the ideal leader to steer BioQuest towards impactful achievements in biodiversity genomic research."
BioQuest's research aims to support the preservation of certain species. The organisation has already embarked on significant projects, including studies on the Bermuda cahow and Bermuda’s coral reef systems.
The launch of BioQuest as an NGO will enable the continuation and expansion of its work.
It will focus on facilitating all stages of genetic research in Bermuda for full sample and data autonomy.
Mr Rouja said: "I am deeply honoured to lead BioQuest and contribute to the vital conservation efforts in Bermuda.
“Our new projects we launched on Saturday, like the Bermuda Cedar Tree Reference Genome and Bermuda Skink Reference Genome initiatives, are not just about preserving species but also about understanding and protecting the intricate web of life that makes our island unique.
“With BioQuest, we aim to bring cutting-edge genomic technology and research to the forefront of conservation.”
He said the aim was to build local capacity while empowering scientists with the data and tools to help protect Bermuda's biodiversity.
The Bermuda Cedar Tree Reference Genome Project aims to create the first-ever reference genome from a known pure-breed cedar tree to be used to design a fast, efficient genetic test to determine if a seed is a pure-breed or a hybrid, which are believed to now dominate our landscape. This initiative will help cultivate and distribute genuine Bermuda cedars across the island, restoring the prominence of this iconic species, whilst identifying the remaining original “pure” trees that may be in need of enhanced protection.
The Bermuda Skink Reference Genome Project will create a high-quality reference genome that will be used for future population genomics work that will address the critical endangerment of this species. This work will inform conservation strategies and foster a better understanding of the evolutionary dynamics of the Bermuda skink. For example, this project will allow environmentalists, such as Owen Greenwood at Manchester Metropolitan University, to determine whether or not the Castle Island and Nonsuch Island populations are now genetically distinct from those remaining on the mainland.
Both the Cedar Tree and Bermuda Skink reference genome projects are funded as part of the Org.one programme, supported by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, which has a goal to support rapid sequencing of critically endangered species, anywhere, by anyone.
Other projects on the BioQuest agenda for 2024 include: Bermuda cahow population study; Bermuda coral reef genetic mapping; white-eyed vireo; humpback whale; sea grass; tiger shark; Bermuda green turtle; honeybee; Bermuda mystery roses; Bermuda fish eDNA database; Bermuda Ocean Genome Legacy reference genomes; and ancient cahow DNA.
Information provided by CariGenetics.
BioQuest has also partnered with The Berkeley Institute and Bermuda College through its Eco-Schools Programme, engaging students in hands-on cedar tree research to provide an understanding of Bermuda's biodiversity.
Additionally, a Cultural Apprenticeship Programme supported by a Department of Culture grant offers students the opportunity to learn invaluable knowledge from a “culture-bearer” and research experience.
Ms Sierra Pacheco was announced as an apprentice at the launch event. She will learn from Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, who has been spearheading cedar tree conservation efforts.
It was also announced that Bermuda Zoological Society is BioQuest’s official education partner. The partnership will deliver biodiversity research to Bermuda's young people.
BioQuest has obtained a temporary fundraising licence for its initial operations and has the long-term goal of being sustained by international grants.
Anyone wishing to support the projects can donate here.
More information can be found via social media @bioquestngo or by contacting Mr Rouja via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A BioQuest website is in the making.