International Women’s Day 2022: Emilia Chiancone

Emilia Chiancone

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Born in Bari in 1938, the late Emilia Chiancone was Professor Emeritus of Molecular Biology at the “Sapienza” University of Rome and the first woman to become President of the Italian Academy of Sciences. Looking back at Chiancone’s life, we are inspired by the story of a prominent Italian scientist who, throughout her life, continuously broke barriers in terms of gender, and knocked down boundaries between disciplines.

Having graduated in Milan in Biological sciences, she moved to Rome which became the centre of her career. Together with the Nobel laureate Rita Levi Montalcini, Cecilia Saccone and Virginia Volterra, Emilia Chiancone was one of the first women to lead an Institute of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR), the Centre of Investigation on Molecular Biology, which under her guidance developed into the Institute of Molecular Biology and Pathology, which she chaired from 2002 to 2008. In 2007 she received the Antonio Feltrinelli Award for Biological Sciences from the Accademia dei Lincei, and in 2015, the Italian Society of Science History gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award for her commitment to the dissemination of science, once again the only woman recognised with this honour. Altogether, she authored over 200 publications in international journals, several monographs and two patents, gaining recognition for her studies on the evolution of the allosteric regulatory mechanisms of enzymes.

From 2011 until her passing, Chiancone was the first female President of the Italian Academy of Sciences, characterising her mandates with a series of initiatives which were positively welcomed by both the scientific community and wider society. She put a special emphasis on scientific dissemination, a pertinent example being  the organisation alongside the CNR of “Wheats&Women international conference – Carlotta Award 2018”. Despite a career in biochemistry, it was under her presidency that the National Academy of Sciences joined LifeWatch Italy in 2012; her commitment was valuable and unwavering, and permanently marked the story of this infrastructure. In her final years, she worked tirelessly to foster the connection between science and society, the participation of students in research projects and a focus on science in schools. Together with CNR and LifeWatch Italy, she was the promoter and organiser of a number of citizen science initiatives, among which the TrovaPiante di Villa Torlonia (an interactive multimedia guide to identify local flora), a complete guide to the rich flora of the metropolitan area of Rome (including over 1600 infrageneric taxa), and the first Italian Citizen Science Conference,  “Biodiversity, Networks, Open Science and Platforms”, as part of a prolonged effort to make science more inclusive. An excellent scientist and resolute woman, Emilia Chiancone distinguished herself for her expertise, dedication and commitment – a true role model and inspiration for all those who want to pursue a career in research, particularly young women.

International Women’s Day 2022: Tatyana Bileva

Tatyana Bileva

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Born in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, Tatyana Bileva is an Associate Professor of Ecology at the city’s Agricultural University, where she has previously held the crucial role of Quality Manager. She is a bright researcher with long-term experience of a wide range of plant parasitic nematodes and soil ecology, and has published over 60 scientific publications and 2 books in the fields of Biodiversity, Taxonomy and Zoology.

Bileva has been involved in several multidisciplinary research works regarding the mapping of multiple nematode pests through GIS applications, and other themes in her research include biodiversity, environmental conflicts, ecosystem services and sustainable management. Her expertise allows for the development of high-level research work, and has worked on many  local and international projects. Her enthusiasm and gentle personality is not only conducive to establishing positive professional links, but makes her an inspiration for students wishing to pursue scientific work and career.

She was recently involved in STACCATO, Sustaining Agricultural Change through Ecological Engineering and Optimal use of Natural Resources, a BiodivERsA-funded EU project which focused on the analysis and evaluation of Ecosystem Services (ESS), and their sensitivity to land use patterns in agriculturally dominated landscapes. According to Eurostat, Bileva lives in one of just the four EU countries where the number of female scientists outweighs male scientists (52%).

International Women’s Day 2022: Marie-Anne Libert

Marie-Anne Libert

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Marie-Anne Libert was born in 1782 to a large family in Malmedy, now Belgium. She was a prolific author of fungal taxa, becoming the second woman formally to name a fungal taxon in the modern scientific era, and describing over 200 novel taxa during her lifetime.

While women were not admitted to Belgian universities for a hundred years after her birth, Libert’s father recognised his daughter’s academic potential and made sure she received an education. Upon return, Libert taught herself Latin so that she could read the many books about plants written in this language, inspired by the flora of her native town. Libert’s first new fungal taxon—Asteroma rosae—was a leaf spot (Libert 1827c) and she was the first to name to species the fungal cause of potato murrain, commonly known as potato blight. In a letter to the Journal de Liège, Libert ascribed the cause of the devastating potato blight recently observed in Belgium to a fungus, providing details of hyphae and spores as observed under the microscope. Her naming of pathogenic fungi contributed to a growing awareness among botanists that fungi were a major cause of plant diseases, and to the beginnings of the new discipline that became known as plant pathology.

She was well-regarded by her scientific peers, and in recognition of her contributions to mycology, Libert was elected an associate member of the Linnean Society of Paris in 1820, and awarded a gold medal of merit by Emperor Friedrich-Wilhelm III. At a scientific congress in Liège in 1836, she was unanimously elected president of the natural sciences section, and special note was made of the fact that she had ‘carried out her work without benefit of being close to any large scientific centre or even to a large library’. In 1862, she became the first woman invited to join the Royal Botanic Society of Belgium. Four genera were named after Libert during her lifetime, as well as three after her death, and she was also honoured in the name of a street in Malmedy in 1925.

This text was largely adapted from Naming names: the first women taxonomists in mycology, by Sara Maroske and Tom W. May.

Gender, Equity and Research: In conversation with Africa Zanella on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022

Women in Science

On the occasion of the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, LifeWatch ERIC Chief Communication Officer, Sara Montinaro, interviewed Africa Zanella, the infrastructure’s new Gender and Equity Consultant.

When asked to break down what her work entails for those unfamiliar with the position, Ms Zanella explained:

“[My role] means ensuring that there is gender balance in decision-making: in processes, in programmes, in projects, there is always a gender lens […] sometimes when we start looking at research there are already established models which will not yet have been desegregated in terms of gender – so they are repeating the same mistakes over and over again, without giving due consideration to the idea that the role of women has changed over time and that needs have changed […] sustainability depends on women having an equal role.”

On the subject of her own experience working as a woman in scientific fields, she mused that, while “discrimination takes place everywhere”, she has always “broken barriers”, and that these experiences underpin her advocacy work.

“I don’t advocate for equality per se between men and women; I advocate for equal opportunity. If a woman chooses to go into science, there should be no barriers, just as if a man chooses to go into science there should be no barriers, and if different sexual identities go into science, there should be no barriers.”

She went on to identify the reasons why women and girls are often overlooked in research as stereotypesunconscious bias and cultural issues, explaining: “The established pattern has been there for such a long time that people assume that that’s the way it is, […] but the stereotype is not right across the board; there are a lot more women doctors than there were in the past, even over my own lifetime – but for researchers, it’s a different story.” Continuing, she proposed that the answer is to keep advocating for equality, and not to accept unfair treatment, advising “if your organisation does not appreciate your contribution and your relevance to the topic that is at hand, then you have to change,” emphasising that recognition should be defined by how we reward people financially.

Ms Zanella concluded with the following message for young women in science:

“I hope that I encourage young girls to look at themselves as the carriers of this innovative practice which says ‘I am not a victim, and I am not a hero. But I am a human being and I want to live my full potential, therefore; don’t put any barriers in front of me. Let me see what the law says, let me see how my company is supporting me, let me see how I can make my contribution to the world.’ And that is the message that I would like to convey on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science: Make a contribution.”

You can listen to the full podcast below, or find it on all major podcast platorms.

What a racket! Comparing the soundscapes of the Gulf of Tribugá and the North Sea

Marine soundscapes

This story was originally published on LifeWatch Belgium.

A new LifeWatch Belgium paper compares two different marine soundscapes: the Gulf of Tribugá in Colombia and the the Belgian Part of the North Sea (BPNS). This study is of great importance as a general marine soundscape baseline in order to map possible future disturbances of port construction or to evaluate whether policy measures taken are effective. The comparison shows that biophony dominates the Gulf ot Tribugá while anthropophony is dominant in the BPNS.

The “soundscape” of an ecosystem is defined as the characterisation of all the acoustic sources present in a certain place. A soundscape includes three fundamental sound source types: (1) anthropophony, or sounds associated with human activity; (2) biophony, or sounds produced by animals; and (3) geophony, or sounds generated by physical events such as waves, earthquakes, or rain. Studying soundscapes can provide information for a specific habitat, which could then be linked to ecosystem health status and other bioindicators. This information can be used to monitor the habitat over time, allowing for rapid detection of habitat degradation, such as in response to human-driven events. To do so, underwater recorders (hydrophones) are placed in different locations and are set to record broadband acoustic signals.

The paper describes two regions with vastly different marine soundscapes, characterised by extremely different shipping densities. The first study region, the Gulf of Tribugá, Colombia, is less affected by human activities. It serves as a general marine soundscape baseline for comparison with possible future disturbances from port construction and operation. By contrast, the second study region, the Belgian Part of the North Sea (BPNS) is located in a more disturbed area of very exploited shallow waters. Its baseline is being used to monitor the effects of noise reduction policies. The comparison shows that biophony dominates the Gulf ot Tribugá while anthropophony dominates the BPNS.

Read the whole paper via this link.

Image credit: Maria Paula Rey Baquero (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia) 

Hiring: Scientific Collaborator for BopCo project 

BopCo

LifeWatch Belgium consortium members RBINS (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences) and the RMCA (Royal Museum for Central Africa) are looking for a Scientific Collaborator to join the LifeWatch BopCo project.

A postdoctoral researcher position is now open within the project “BopCo: A barcoding facility for organisms and tissues of policy concern“. The position will be administratively managed by RBINS, but functionally shared by RBINS and RMCA. The contract is for 1 year and applications must be submitted by 7 February 2022.

BopCo is an initiative of the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO), the main activity of which consists of providing scientific services concerning the DNA identification of socially and policy-relevant organisms at the request of governments, companies, NGOs, associations and the general public.

For more details about the vacancy and how to apply:

Mapping Eel Migration Routes

Mapping Eel Migration Routes

This story was originally posted on LifeWatch Belgium.

With the use of 96 data loggers, scientists of the Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), Ghent University and the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) succeeded in mapping the migration routes of eels in the North Sea. The results show that the majority of Belgian eels migrate through the English Channel. Although this seems the logical thing to do, some choose to migrate over Scotland. The reason for these different choices is still under study; the eels are probably guided by certain sea currents.

The European eel has one of the most impressive and complex life cycles in the animal kingdom. They grow in our rivers, but need to migrate at least 7000 m to the spawning grounds in the Atlantic Ocean. The exact location of and the migration routes to these spawning grounds are after millennia of research still poorly known.

Researchers from the INBOGhent University and VLIZ attached data logging devices to eels to map their migration routes in the North Sea. Pieterjan Verhelst from the INBO: “These data logging devices measure water temperature and depth during the eel’s migration route. After some time, the devices detach from the eel, drift to the sea surface and hopefully wash ashore. Whoever found such a device and sent it back to us was awarded €50. As such, we could download the data and calculate the eel’s trajectory.”

Successful findings
From the 320 deployed data loggers 96 (30%) were retrieved. The majority were found near the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel (France), but substantial numbers were also retrieved along the southern coasts of the UK and the Netherlands.

Whales and sharks
The route was not without danger. Marine predators like whales and sharks ate eleven of our eels. In some cases we were even able to identify the culprit to species level (a pilot whale and a porbeagle shark) based on the species-specific body temperature (after predation the data logger was inside the predator) and the diving pattern.

Bit by bit
Although we couldn’t track the eels until their spawning locations, these results are a valuable contribution to the already known routes (for example the route from Norway over the UK and the route through the Mediterranean Sea). Putting the pieces of the puzzle together on one map, we gradually get a total picture of the various eel migration routes. The final 3000 km to the spawning sites, however, is still shrouded in mystery and require further research.

For more info, contact Pieterjan Verhelst (Research Institute for Nature and Forest)

Debut open access paper published in the Biodiversity Data Journal

Biodiversity Data Journal

The “LifeWatch ERIC Collection of Data and Services Papers” published in the Biodiversity Data Journal is dedicated to the resources and assets developed, upgraded and used during the implementation of the Internal Joint Initiative (IJI), our flagship project focused non-indigenous and invasive species (NIS). The first open-access data paper in this series was published on 25 January 2022, entitled “An individual-based dataset of carbon and nitrogen isotopic data of Callinectes sapidus in invaded Mediterranean waters” (Di Muri et al.).

The paper presents compiled datasets of isotopic signatures of the Atlantic blue crab and its prey in invaded coastal and transitional habitats. The analysis of these data can be used to calculate the trophic position of the invader, evaluate its adaptation within new ecosystems and investigate changes in the structure and functioning of invaded food webs.

Having already colonised most of the eastern and central Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea in recent decades, the Atlantic blue crab is currently widening its distribution towards the western region of the basin. Its impact within invaded habitats was assessed in a number of studies using stable isotope analysis, and Di Muri et al. have combined the results into a geo-referenced dataset.

The research was carried out within the context of the IJI, more specifically the ‘Crustaceans Workflow’, one of the validation cases used to develop an interdisciplinary Virtual Research Environment that utilises disruptive technologies to deal with the impacts of NIS on European native species, genetic diversity, habitats, ecosystem functioning and services, and to inform current practices in environmental management and policy implementation. Stay tuned for the next paper!

LWGreece Research Infrastructure Data Services

Research Infrastructure Data Services

The Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) is working on the enhancement of the LifeWatchGreece Research Infrastructure (LWGreece RI) Data Services. The purpose of these activities is to provide end-users with a user-friendly service, enabling them to search and access (meta)data from two sources, Micro-CT vLab and IPT MedOBIS.

The activities are divided into three major categories:

(a) design and implementation of facilities for harvesting data

(b) data modelling and semantic data transformation activities, and

(c) updates and enhancements of the Data Services of the LWGreece RI.

More details of these activities are given below:

A set of supporting services and tools have been designed and implemented, able to harvest resources from two databases: (a) the IPT MedOBIS database and (b) the Micro-CT vLab database. A harvesting mechanism has been implemented that exports information from the above-mentioned sources, which are subsequently transformed and added to LWGreece repositories (see point below). 

After harvesting data from the sources described above, they needed to be homogenised before depositing them in the repositories of the LWGreece infrastructure. To this end, a set of mappings was implemented, using X3ML Specification Language,[1] that describes the transition of the harvested resources from their original schemata, to a common target top-level ontology MarineTLO.[2] The result was a set of ontological-based descriptions regarding MarineTLO that were inserted into the LWGreece semantic repositories.

Several endpoints of the Data Services were updated, so that they can properly retrieve information from LWGreece semantic repositories. In addition, we have enhanced the services based on the findings and the updated modelling that emerged from the two new sources that were used (i.e., IPT MedOBIS, micro-CT vLab). 

It is worth mentioning that the Data Services (along with all the other available vLabs) is now available through the Metadata Catalogue of LifeWatch ERIC. Allowing this central catalogue to be machine-interoperable is necessary for the population of the catalogue, and implements the FAIR principles and EOSC-interoperability, promoted through ENVRI-FAIR WP9 and WP11.


[1] Marketakis, Y., Minadakis, N., Kondylakis, H., Konsolaki, K., Samaritakis, G., Theodoridou, M., Flouris, G. and Doerr, M., 2017. X3ML mapping framework for information integration in cultural heritage and beyond. International Journal on Digital Libraries, 18(4), pp. 301-319.

[2] Tzitzikas, Y., Allocca, C., Bekiari, C., Marketakis, Y., Fafalios, P., Doerr, M., Minadakis, N., Patkos, T. and Candela, L., 2016. Unifying heterogeneous and distributed information about marine species through the top level ontology MarineTLO. Program, 50(1), pp. 16-40.

Explainers: the Micro-CT vLab

Micro-CT vLab

The Micro-CT vLab is a virtual laboratory which is hosted in the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) and was initially established during the ESFRI LifeWatchGreece Research Infrastructure. This virtual lab offers users access to virtual galleries of various samples which can be displayed and downloaded through a web application. This tool has been updated over the Elixir-GR, BIOIMAGING-GR and Synthesys+ projects with the addition of several new features. Firstly, the Micro-CT vLab has now been upgraded to Drupal version 9. A series of micro-CT datasets from medical to biological studies can be uploaded in order to be stored and disseminated.

Furthermore, the Micro-CT vLab has now a REST API for creating new content. Through the API, the user has the ability to access micro-CT API endpoints, which can retrieve information about various micro-CT scans, species and metadata information related with the micro-CT datasets. A metadata catalogue has been also created in order to dynamically display the complete metadata available for each dataset which are published in the micro-CT. Finally, following registration, the user now has the ability to upload the original micro-CT datasets and the related metadata through a user-friendly form.

You can watch a short demonstration video of the Micro-CT vLab below.