The Project

PopCOmics seeks to apply novel molecular techniques to address challenges in marine biology research with application to societal problems and conservation goals. We will apply genomics to the study of keystone species (either because of their ecological role, their invasive status, or their conservation challenges). We also want to develop and applyamplicon sequencing techniques (metabarcoding) to the problem of biodiversity assessmentat the community and holobiont level. We will focus on biomonitoring of natural and impacted benthic habitats and analyse changes symbiont communities in invertebrates as a response to anthropogenic perturbations.

PopCOmics is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science (CTM2017-88080) and is scheduled for the period 2018-2020. The PopCOmics team includes senior members and students of the University of Barcelona and the Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes (Spanish Research Council, CSIC), the two institutions hosting this coordinated project. We also have team members from other institutions in Europe (Norway, UK) and the USA.

The first three descriptors of Good Environmental Status proposed by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive of the EU in 2010 are the maintenance of biological diversity, the limitation of non-indigenous species (NIS), and the health status of populations of commercial fish species. The research in these three fields can benefit significantly from genomic tools derived from high throughput sequencing technologies and PopCOmics wants to contribute to these challenges.

PopCOmics builds on previous experience of the applicant teams on the use of genomic tools and, particularly, the use of genome-wide markers for genetic diversity and population structure analysis, and the use of amplicon-sequencing techniques on community DNA to characterize biodiversity at different levels (from the symbiome to the whole community). These techniques are applied to the three main objectives of the project: Population genomics, metabarcoding, and symbiome analysis



In this objective, we will focus on

Engineer species: the sea urchins Paracentrous lividus and Arbacia lixula, that can shape the sublittoral communities in the Mediterranean and are responding differentially to the increasing water temperatures.

Endangered species: the emblematic loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta, of which we will sample feeding and breeding grounds, perform Mixed Stock Analysis and assess population connectivity.

Commercial fish species: three species of the Genus Diplodus with different potential dispersal and submitted to differential fishing pressures. Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) will be performed to identify relevant pheontypic traits.

Invasive species: we will work with the ascidians Didemnum vexillum, Styela plicata, and Microcosmus squamiger that represent successful worldwide introductions. We will analyse native and introduced populations to infer introduction pathways and adaptive capabilities.



We will use amplicon-sequencing of community DNA; based on the COI gene, to develop an early warning system for introduced species using collectors deployed within ports and at aquaculture facilities.

We also plan to apply metabarcoding techniques to hard substratum communities in the Iberian Mediterranean coast to compile exhaustive inventories (from protists to macro-organisms) that will provide baseline references for monitoring changes. We will also analyse the effect of biogeographic breaks along the Iberian Mediterranean on community structure.



We will use rDNA amplicon sequencing to explore symbiomes of invertebrates as indicators of environmental shifts related to human impacts.

We plan to characterise the microbiome of the invasive ascidian Didemnum vexillum in its worldwide introduced range, looking for shifts in functionality and the role of symbionts in the successful colonisation of new habitats.

We also plan to analyse changes in the microbiome of sponges as a response to eutrophication. This research will include both observational studies along eutrophication gradients and experimental manipulation of selected sponge species. The predictive analyses on the functional capabilities of microbial communities based on 16S datasets will allow us to identify prokaryotes with key roles in the holobiont anddetect symbiotic bacteria relevant for increased resistance to eutrophication impacts.



We will continue our involvement in publishing our results in scientific journals, and presenting them in national and international meetings. We are also strongly committed with student formation, and we foresee the development of several PhD, MSc, and Degree Theses in the framework of PopCOmics. We are also keen to translate the results to stakeholders and local enterprises in the form of management guidance, reports, protocol establishment, and setting up of baseline datasets for future studies. We are particularly engaged in the dissemination of the results to the general public and to raise awareness about some of the pressures faced by our littoral systems.