To deliver innovative omics solutions for a changing world.
To enable world-leading environmental research with real-world impact through the application of omics approaches.
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1.1 Executive Summary
Technological advances have provided researchers with an unprecedented ability to comprehensively characterise living systems across scales from the molecular level to entire ecosystems. In particular, omics approaches that consider entire layers of biological organisation (e.g., genomics, metabolomics, phenomics, etc) have matured, enabling fundamental research as well as providing solutions that improve environmental management. The assessment of ecosystems through time and at all levels of organisation, from individuals to populations and communities, allows us to monitor the impact of a changing environment and plan appropriate mitigation, adaption and restoration. This community vision is designed to maximise the potential of these developments in supporting the breadth of NERC research and ensuring translation of these innovations into solutions that deliver economic and environmental benefits. Our delivery plan will consider technological advances, human resources, business drivers, partnerships and infrastructure required to realise our mission ‘to deliver innovative omics solutions for a changing world’.
1.2 Community Action Plan
NERC requested the community develop its vision on environmental omics requested that the research community develop its vision for a future strategy for environmental omics research following on from the 2010 NEOMICS report . To achieve this, NERC established an expert steering group (Annex 1) to advise on the key areas to be included within the vision, to determine the process of community engagement and to contribute to articulating how the vision can support NERC’s delivery plan. In additional to steering group meetings, a workshop was held (17th April 2018) allowing the community an opportunity to directly provide evidence and advice on the future direction of environmental omics and to consider the capabilities needed to support a future strategy in omics research. The recommendations emerging from this consultation process are summarised below:
- Enabling world-leading environmental research by supporting research programmes that utilise omics to deliver the NERC strategy.
- Develop the scientific expertise and stakeholder skill base required to allow the environmental community (researchers, policy makers, regulators and industry) to fully exploit omics tools.
- Converting innovations to solutions: Work in partnership with Innovate UK, UK government departments, devolved administrations, stakeholders and industry to ensure omics technologies are converted into innovations that assist environmental management and monitoring.
- Promote cross-UKRI interdisciplinary strategic programmes that utilise omics approaches to address environmental global challenges and to promote the discovery of novel biological compounds for societal gain (e.g. Blue Biotech).
- Identify immediate and future infrastructure requirements (data generation, integration and analysis) to support omics research and input long-term priorities into the UKRI Infrastructure Roadmap.
The ‘NERC Environmental Omics Strategy’ (NEOMICS, 2010) was developed to ensure that emerging technologies supported NERC strategy (2007-2012)  Next Generation Science for Planet Earth. Considering ongoing technological advances, together with the maturation of various omics platforms and approaches, it was felt timely to update in the context of the current NERC Delivery Plan (2016-2020) The Business of the Environment  as well as opportunities arising from the formation of UKRI.
NERC has invested in omics over the last 20 years through a series of thematic programmes (Environmental Genomics – EG, Post Genomics and Proteomics – PGP, Mathematics & Informatics for Environmental ‘Omic Data Synthesis – EOS) and by supporting significant infrastructure (NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility – NBAF). The current strategy update aims to provide a coherent vision of how the long-term investment in omics can be harnessed to address environmental global challenges and benefits for society.
Central to this current mission is the delivery of innovative omics solutions that allow us to better understand and monitor the changing world. Through exploiting state-of-the-art approaches such as: aDNA (ancient DNA) to study the effects of historical natural events (e.g. climate change) and human interventions (e.g. historical deforestation) on ecosystems; eDNA (environmental DNA) and metabarcoding to provide powerful tools to better understand non-native species invasion, species conservation, and ecosystem processes. These new approaches have delivered outputs that have transformed archaeological and ecological research agendas. Metagenomics and eDNA have also yielded legislative regulatory tools for monitoring threatened species (DEFRA – Great Crested Newt Detection WC1067 ) and water quality assessment (EA – Diatom Metabarcoding SC140024/R ). Omics tools provide us with both understanding and capacity to predict how our planet works and tools to assist us in responsibly managing its precious resources.