Gothenburg summit meeting for biodiversity

Thirteen partners have joined forces with the University of Gothenburg as hosts for a programme to promote biodiversity. ‘Biodiversity is essential for our survival on Earth and for maintaining natural processes of the ecosystem’, Alexandre Antonelli says.

Two years have passed since we interviewed Alexandre Antonelli, professor of biodiversity (issue 1/2015). He dreamed then that within ten years he would lead a research centre on biodiversity at the University of Gothenburg and expressed a desire for biodiversity to assume a higher profile in society. Now, two years later, the University of Gothenburg is hosting a new centre of expertise and research, the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre, where he is executive director.

‘I could not have imagined what tremendous support and impact a suggestion for a research centre would garner among colleagues, the administration and the public’, Alexandre says. ‘Many people are talking about biodiversity and many have become inspired. But this is only a first step towards achieving our goals and truly making a difference.’

Biodiversity is about the abundance of variation among living organisms of all origins. Threats to biodiversity include destruction or diminishment of habitat, the killing of too many individuals in a species and pollutants that have a negative impact on the environment.

There are about eight million species in the world, if you exclude bacteria. Of the eight million, we are acquainted with only a little more than 10 per cent, and researchers are constantly discovering new species. Unfortunately, human beings are the main reason that species have been eradicated and that many species run the risk of extinction. ‘There are many aspects related to abundant biodiversity, ranging from economic, moral and aesthetic considerations to the sustainability aspect’, Alexandre explains.

The Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre is made up of 13 different partners who are doing research on biodiversity or are involved with it in various ways. Håkon Sigurdsson is the research director and project manager at Universeum, one of the centre’s partners, and he believes that the centre contributes to work that is among the most important we can undertake today.
‘Building knowledge about biodiversity to understand the context in which we ourselves play such a large role is absolutely crucial for us to be able to hand over a beautiful and functioning world to our children and their future.’

Alexandre Antonelli maintains that knowledge, interest and resources for biodiversity studies exist in many different places in society but rarely are brought together. ‘By increasing collaboration among the centre’s partners and members, we hope to vigorously address major issues and solve problems that we previously have not been able to resolve.’

The centre is in place, but for Alexandre Antonelli, it’s only a first step. Now he is dreaming of developing a laboratory with robots that can do most of the work. The robots should be able to process large amounts of information, which can produce exciting results. ‘We should be able to sequence the genome of thousands of species and use the information to shed light on some of the most fundamental questions in biology. Such an initiative would make Gothenburg a unique cradle for cutting-edge research and attract students and researchers from all over the world, especially from developing countries where biodiversity is often very high, but resources are low.’