Date of workshop: to be confirmed
Workshop Leader: Professor Mark Viant
A major challenge in the regulatory control of environmental quality is the rapid and accurate diagnosis and prognosis of the impact of a wide range of environmental stressors. For the past 10 years Birmingham has pioneered the development of Environmental Genomics as a novel strategy to address this challenge and we have established an interactive network between the international community of regulators, industry and academics to take this ahead. These molecular approaches have revolutionised our understanding of living organisms and their interactions with the environment. The approaches are now sufficiently well established in their delivery that we are at the threshold of optimum timing for implementation into environmental monitoring.
The remaining challenge of translating the basic “omic” science into practical monitoring is that industry and governmental agencies will only regulate upon the biological effects of environmental stressors as mandated by existing legislation. Yet the latter within Europe is based largely around crude tools for measuring stress. This is particularly evident in the legislation for monitoring stressor impacts on the biodiversity of plants and animals (under the EU Water Framework Directive; WFD) and in the assessment of chemical toxicity (under the EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction of Chemical Substances; REACH). The considerably more informative knowledge obtained using genomic tools, i.e. diagnosis of qualitative and quantitative impact of multiple stressors as subtle early warning systems, and associated cost benefits and potential to reduce animal testing, remain untapped.
The discussion is timely because the genomic approaches have only just matured to a level where it is no longer necessary for end-users to understand the complexities of the technologies. Instead, the advanced computational algorithms can be embedded within “black-boxes” that yield simple and defined predictive outputs upon which regulators can act.
Within the School of Biosciences there is an extensive and committed focus on the application of genomics (including transcriptomics, metabolomics and computational biology) for probing the stress responses of aquatic organisms to multiple environmental stressors and identifying adverse outcome pathways. This team has made significant progress in demonstrating these approaches to end-users, via NERC KT and current research funding to support the development of predictive modelling, from the EA, NERC and Defra.
There is now an opportunity to link the science to internal and external policy and regulatory expertise, thus to translate these diagnostic tools into routine environmental assessment through regulatory practice. Clearly, fundamentally new thinking is required to develop the appropriate mechanisms for this translation. We propose not only to engage with academics, industry and government involved in regulatory practices (e.g. for WFD, REACH), but importantly with academics and government departments involved in the development of environmental legislation for the future. The involvement of academic lawyers with considerable interest in the proactive (or anticipatory) development of policy is essential, as opposed to traditional reactive regulation to a new problem. In addition we will build in important ethical issues, e.g. what is the significance of the new knowledge of the environment revealed by genomics measurements and what is the proportionate response? How do we measure the value of genomics knowledge vs. that from traditional measurements, either purely in financial terms or in alternative non-economic values? These issues must be addressed to facilitate practical implementation.
The aims of the workshop will be:
To more fully define the problem considering the views of key stakeholders at national, European and international levels
To identify the national and EU bodies that currently exist, or should exist, to take these issues forward
To identify mechanisms for knowledge exchange between these groups
To define what investments are required to deliver this as an IAS theme. Other specific outputs include to build cases to create new Chairs in Environmental Law (Birmingham Law School) and Environmental Ethics (Public Health), and to initiate applications to the NERC and the EU for policy funding.
Kevin Chipman (Biosciences)
Francesco Falciani (Biosciences)
John Colbourne (Biosciences)
Scott Hayward (Biosciences)
Jean McHale (Law)
Clare McIvor (Law)
Angus Dawson (Primary Care Clinical Sciences)
David Hunter (Philosophy)
David Hannah (GEES)
Jon Sadler (GEES)
Existing external links to regulatory and policy issues (EA, Cefas, Defra and HSE in UK, and internationally the OECD and JRC).
Industrial input will be from major companies such as AstraZeneca, and SMEs such as the environmental consultants APEM.
A critical parliamentary input will also be secured involving the UK Office of Science and Technology (POST) and the European counterpart STOA. We are aided strongly here through the dialogue already established with Malcolm Harbour (European Parliament) who we will include.
We will also engage with a representative from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.