Genomic observatories


Traditional morphological monitoring is time-consuming, expensive and requires taxonomic experts who can be hard to find. The use of DNA-based techniques allows for faster screening of samples, without the need for in-depth taxonomic knowledge and can be standardised across regions. In many cases, the method has proven to be more time- and cost-efficient than traditional analysis, allowing for a larger spatial and temporal coverage of monitoring.  

Typically, two types of DNA-based methods are used in monitoring. Current monitoring largely uses metabarcoding of bulk samples, samples containing the groups of interest. A more novel technique makes use of eDNA, or DNA that can be extracted from environmental samples like water or sediment samples. 

This includes two types of DNA; 1. DNA from microscopic taxa present in the water or sediment samples themselves and 2. extra-organismal DNA originating from e.g. shed skin/tissues, excretion products, cell lysis or biologically active propagules. The latter allows us to detect the presence of a species without a specimen of the species being in the sample itself, in essence it is detected through the environment. 

DNA-based methods allow us to cover a range of different taxa, including rare, cryptic or elusive taxa that are otherwise sometimes missed by traditional sampling and analysis. eDNA analysis also allows for non-invasive sampling of sensitive and rare and/or endangered taxa without putting pressure on the population.


Relevant publications


Organisms of interest

marine mammals
Marine mammals
  • Bats
  • Plankton
  • shell
    Shells & mollusks
  • Insects
  • env measurements
    Environmental monitoring
  • marine mammals
    Marine mammals


In the Belgian Part of the North Sea (BPNS), DNA and eDNA is sampled during the monthly LifeWatch campaigns by taking water samples. The grid of stations that are visited on a monthly and seasonal basis allow for a good spatio-temporal coverage of the BPNS.  

LifeWatch also facilitates various other genomic monitoring events in collaboration with international consortia and Research Infrastructures like Ocean Sampling Day (OSD), EMO BON (EMBRC), ARMS-MBON (EMBRC, AssemblePlus) and Jerico.  


Collected water samples are filtered onboard and stored for further processing in line with the Ocean Sampling Day protocol for analysis of microbial and plankton communities. Sequencing is performed at a centralised facility, and lab and sampling protocols are standardised.  

Under EMO BON, dedicated water column and soft sediment samples are collected bi-monthly at station 330, which was selected for its long-standing biodiversity observations. EMO BON uses heavily  standardised protocols  for sampling and analysis and provides centralised sequencing on the European scale. Through EMO BON we target plankton communities through water column samples and microbial, meiobenthos and macrobenthos soft sediment communities in the BPNS. Through the EMO BON network, Belgium is one of the 16 connected observatories over Europe and the Mediterranean.  

ARMS-MBON  enables monitoring of hard substrate fauna by deploying Autonomous Reef Monitoring Reefs (ARMS) units at various locations at the BPNS during one year long deployments. The ARMS MBON project has 20 observatories all over Europe and the Arctic and provides metabarcoding of samples to its partners targeting COI and 18S markers.   


Relevant news

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