Thematic Session D: Ocean Biomolecular Observing Network

(Co-Chairs: Margaret Leinen & Willie Wilson)

Session outline/objectives:

This session will provide an update on the OBON Programme endorsed by the UN Ocean Decade. This will be followed by discussion of topics where OBON could benefit from the input of POGO members.


  • Introductory presentation about OBON and update on progress since Jan 2021: Margaret Leinen (10min)
  • MBON/community of practice: Emmett Duffy (5min)
  • Update on data issues: Pier Luigi/Raissa Meyer (5min)

Discussion topics:

  • Nomination of new SAC members from parts of the world not currently represented
  • Input on Ministries/agencies etc and the management issues in member countries that will be end-users of OBON/biomolecular products
  • Projects that are being proposed for endorsement – examples EMO-BON (Nicolas Pade), Scripps (Andy Allen), A-Fish-DNA-Scan (A. Miguel Piecho-Santos), 5 min each
  • Capacity development needs – examples of success in Benin (Zacharie Sohou) and Malaysia (Aileen Tan Shau Hwai) and the EU project AltantECO (Daniele Iudicone), 5min each.

Summary Report:

Margaret Leinen gave a short update on the ocean biomolecular observing network OBON, an endorsed UN decade project, and led by POGO. OBON was set up from an International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange observation workshop last year, where there was agreement for all biomolecular observations and it was proposed to create a network. This is based on the premise that all life shares nucleic acids, through cells or waste products or debris after death. By sampling water and analyzing this, we can detect the organisms and also make other studies that help us understand the functioning of organisms and ecosystem. This will help us to develop capability to create biomolecular measurements, everything from viruses up to larger animals, to understand relationships and to be able to detect changes to them in oceans and to link them to causes. Objectives and goals for OBON can be found here  Members were reminded about the UN Ocean decade call for OBON Projects: OBON wants to ask you for suggestions to SAC committee members, please email Sophie Seeyave or Margaret Leinen.

Nicolas Pade – Ex Director of European Marine Biological Research Board gave a presentation on the European Marine Omics Biodiversity Observation Network. They have biomolecular sampling and analysis incorporated into 16 time series stations from Norway to the Red Sea, focussing on water column, soft sediment and hard substrates. The programmme will use centralised DNA extraction, ITS and CO1 for error reduction, and work on quality control. The data will be published every 3 months, and will be working on networking and training. We are hoping to enlarge the network from 16 sites to many more. Thank you to GENOSCOPE (French institute) who have given much support. More information on EMO BON here: with log sheets and handbook of protocols at the bottom of the page

Andrew Allen — Scripps Institution of Oceanography and J Craig Venter Institute gave a presentation on incorporating biomolecular sampling and analysis into the 67 year-long California Current time series study of fisheries and oceanography. In regards to microbial measurements these have been looked at in relation to carbon cycling and transformation and impact on coastal food webs. They have sampled at every cruise since 2014 for microbial diversity apart from last one due to Omicron pandemic but we are excited to get back into this spring. This research is also part of long-term ecological research network to look at what drives major transitions, what types of processes are changing food webs in time and there is also influence of El Niño and La Niña weather patterns. Long-term ecological time series are important but it is difficult to obtain funding to maintain these. We are interested in RNA and eDNA. We are also interested to learn more about specific protocol as we have been making our protocols available to other users. This vision of incorporating biomolecular data remains to be implemented, but it could be ideal for creating an in situ platform, these types of continual observing platforms can be developed in addition.

Miguel Piecho-Santos — Developing A-Fish-eDNA-Scan
Fish-dDNA-Scan is a program of cruises along the historical track of Magella that will incorporate eDNA analyses and has a strong capacity development component. We are aiming to identify ichthyoplankton and use them in the assessment of fisheries and use the data to advise ministries. We are trying to include the DNA techniques into monitoring of fisheries. We have not had been able to create workshop in Cape Verde or to get researchers to Portugal yet because of the pandemic. More information:


Emmett Duffy, MBON

Converging interest to standardized protocols, MBON is a global network to integrate data such as Marine life 2030, UN Decade to link initiatives. Central to achieving this is communication. MBON already exist as international community of practice and has agreed to serve as the Community of Practice for biodiversity in the Ocean Decade. There is a lot of interest in standard protocols and methods. We need a stakeholder’s community, theme groups, so we can create specific goals and objectives. We also need to coordinate between existing and new partners, in particular help create communities of scale. So one way to begin, is with common messaging to create a front that brings together the needs in biology and shows how we can achieve these.

Pier Luigi Buttigieg and Raissa Meyer reported on the development of the OBON data framework. The UN Decade programmes work on the web, where other people can use it, as platform independent systems across regions and themes. We want OBON to inject to this database. We are focusing on what is necessary for biological data, with societal benefits and create a fit-for purpose system for primary data from RNA and eDNA and we also expect some secondary data. In this system OBON creates digital exchange packages with known and unknown stakeholders, and people from genomic backgrounds. But also, additional working with partners to bridge gaps. We want to create a framework that will be very closely connected to and able to interoperate with other marine and biomolecular data bases. For more information:

Also, in terms of long-term benefit, we already can’t cope with information we have. We should think about which priority species we want to focus on. We need to identify about a dozen things to focus on, not a 1000.

Raïssa Meyer is our official liaison to the Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOPs) programme, and Raffaela Casotti and Katie Piltz are also ECOPs on the interim Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC).


Aileen Tan Shau Hwai – Malaysia

Aileen presented perspectives on capacity development from her experience with western Pacific training programs in marine biology sampling and analysis. Once you have received the training, people are unable to continue what is been learned due to lack of funding in their home country. There is a pressing need for people who go through training to get match funding in their own country. We need to ensure proper documentation is in place so that we can create trust. It is great to have opportunity to attend workshops and to travel and learn, but many scientist face problems when they get home, e.g. using small boats for sampling, it is unclear how they can conduct their work. There is a difference in capacity development and what can be used when home. It needs a strong partnership that goes beyond just training, joint publications, joint funding proposals, and also language, e.g. English for joint publications and research proposals.


  • Participant/institute/country roles in the joint program
  • Stepping up awareness and education into the importance of capacity development
  • Foster multidisciplinary and integrated research
  • Initiate a long-term monitoring program in the country
  • External funding support in key issues related to translating research findings into actions
  •  Cooperate on joint research on developing a common methodology for scientific research
  •  Initiate cross-border research on continuous water bodies beyond national boundaries

Zacharie Sohou – Benin

Zacharie presented perspectives on capacity development from his experience emphasized the desire of least developed countries a small island developing states to engage in this area of research, but there is the serious issue of resources: resources for obtaining equipment to engage in marine biomolecular research, but also the challenge of cost of maintaining laboratories.

Daniele Iudicone – Italy

Daniele reported on the AtlantECO program – set of cruises featuring biomolecular analysis together with research institutions in South Africa and Brazil. AtlantECO is a sampling programme, running from 2020-2025. It is dedicated to understanding microbiology and plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean. There are 4 main lines: 1, understanding of drivers; 2, assess; 3, implement genomic observations and capacity building and 4, outreach. We are looking at eDNA, isotopes, genomic data and are including metadata. We are working with UNESCO. We are working on training and capacity building by connecting infrastructure and case studies and dissemination of results, by standardizing protocols, and creating a handbook for observations and coordinating this effort. We are holding an ocean sampling day to empower local stations and disseminate protocols and agreements to create connections between different countries.


Present: Nick Pade, Andy Allen, Aileen Tan, Zacharie Sohou, Willie Wilson, Margaret Leinen

Much of the discussion focused on from capacity development. Important points:

  • policymakers are a kind of end user – critical to engage them to provide resources
  • preference for experts to go to regional centers to do training and help to set up the resources, rather than have the training at the experts’ institutions and not having the resources when they get back
  • continuation of discussion of importance of resources for setting up labs led to discussion of setting up regional centers that would be well-resourced, researchers from the region could do analyses at those centers
  • discussion of the cost of analyses and how much this will be a barrier to greater use; project leads suggest that their technical experts and the companies that provide equipment collaborate on development of less expensive resources
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