ERC has invested previously in ‘Omics science, for example through the Environmental Genomics and Postgenomics and Proteomics programmes and more recently through the NEOMICS consultation which outlined a strategy for NERC environmental ‘Omics. ‘Omics technologies aim to determine the full complement of DNA molecules in an organism (genomics) or community (metagenomics), and large complements of other molecules, including messenger RNA (transcriptomics), proteins (proteomics), peptides (peptidomics), lipids (lipidomics), sugars (glycomics), all other small molecules (metabolomics), and DNA modifications (epigenetics) in a single experiment. Combined with advances in data processing and analysis (bioinformatics), information from ‘Omics investigations is yielding insights in a range of scientific fields of interest to NERC environmental science.
The rapidity of advances in ‘Omics technologies and analytical methods and the vast quantities of data generated also raise significant challenges that must be overcome by the environmental biology community. These include the need to ensure that research leaders are informed of what can be achieved with each technology and that their research personnel receive appropriate training. Further challenges stem from the facts that each technology is at a different stage of maturity, and that new “revolutionary” advances are continually impacting on the field, necessitating continued technology development and consolidation. The quantities of data being generated are often beyond the scale that can be handled by individual laboratories. Many of these challenges affect environmental science and other research communities (including biological, biomedical, and physical sciences). It is therefore important that new solutions for working together across different research communities are realised.
In order to enhance the use of ‘Omics to improve our understanding of the natural environment, NERC has launched the 5-year £4.5M ‘Omics Programme . This research programme will be delivered through a number of key activities including, in addition to this Discipline-Hopping Scheme:
1) building of an Environmental ‘Omics Network (EON) (This network will engage with the wider NERC environmental community, together with key stakeholders and end users of NERC research);
2) appointing advanced research positions; and (The concept of a NERC Environmental ‘Omics Synthesis centre was set out in the NEOMICS report)
3) providing strategic input to an Environmental ‘Omics Synthesis (EOS) Centre
4) provide overall community coordination, prioritisation and integration of ‘Omics investments.
The ‘Omics programme Directorate, based at the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and Cardiff University, is responsible for overseeing the management and coordination of these key activities, to ensure an integrated programme with maximum impact. An independent Advisory and Implementation Group (AIG) has been set up to provide strategic advice on the programme research direction to the Directorate.