New French-Chilean Joint Unit to Study Marine Algae

Lucy Towers
31 March 2014, at 1:00am

GLOBAL - To strengthen collaboration in the fields of ecology and marine evolutionary biology, the CNRS, UPMC and two Chilean universities signed an agreement on 17 March 2014 for the creation of an International Joint Unit (UMI). Called EBEA, 'Evolutionary Biology and Ecology of Algae', the new structure focuses on the ecology, evolution and genomics of marine algae.

Affiliated to the CNRS Institute of Ecology and Environment (INEE) and the Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie (UPMC), the EBEA is based at the Roscoff biological station, with mirror sites in two Chilean partner universities, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUCCh) and the Southern University of Chile (UACh). The EBEA - the third UMI between the CNRS and Chile - is based on tight scientific collaborations dating back to 1997, which fostered the emergence in Chile of a genuine 'French school' in the ecology and evolutionary genetics of marine organisms.

From the coasts of Brittany to the shores of Chile, the EBEA's goal is to document the biodiversity of marine algae and understand the ecological and evolutionary constraints on their adaptation.

This involves studying their reproductive mechanisms, genetic structure and speciation processes, while taking into account the effect of the environment and of human activity, especially as regards the domestication of algae. This multidisciplinary approach brings together researchers in ecology, evolution, population genetics, oceanography and phycology.

The French and Chilean partners have defined three research areas:

- 'Evolution of sexual reproduction and its consequences' will study the effect of habitat heterogeneity on the evolution of reproductive mechanisms. Theoretical models and experimental evolutionary approaches will be used to examine the interaction between genetic and ecological factors on the evolution of the haploid and diploid phases of the life cycle of algae.

- 'Speciation and adaptation: ecological and evolutionary aspects' will focus on the role of reproductive mechanisms in adaptation and speciation processes. Population genomics approaches will be used to test the predictions of speciation models.

- 'Domestication, genetic resource management and environmental impacts' will make the connection with human activity, in a context of strong demand from the aquaculture sector.

Besides improving knowledge in ecology and marine evolutionary biology, the results obtained will be useful for the management and conservation of biodiversity in coastal marine environments as well as for the development of algae aquaculture.

The UMI will employ ten permanent staff, including six PhD students and four postdoctoral fellows.

This new French-Chilean collaboration will also include joint teaching by the PUCCh and the UPMC in the fields of marine biology and biodiversity, not to mention numerous student and researcher exchanges, co-publications and joint supervision of PhD theses.

More than twenty years of institutional cooperation with Chile - and especially with the CONICYT (National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research), CNRS's Chilean counterpart - has yielded high-quality, world-class results. Co-publications, a large number of jointly supervised doctoral theses, three PICs (International Programs for Scientific Cooperation), one GDRI (International Research Network) in marine biology, three LIAs (International Associated Laboratories) and three UMIs (International Joint Units) also testify to the development and structuring of this cooperation.