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This page was published on 11/05/2011
Published: 11/05/2011


Published: 11 May 2011  
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Environment  |  Pure sciences  |  Research policy


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CAREX delivers roadmap on life in extreme environments

An over 200—strong team of scientists from Europe and abroad joined forces to deliver a roadmap spotlighting extreme environments and life found there. An outcome of the CAREX ('Coordination action for research activities on life in extreme environments') project, which ran from 2008 to 2010, the roadmap provides us with key clues about life thriving in our planet's oceans, the Polar regions and deserts. CAREX clinched EUR 1.2 million under the Environment Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

Not even the iciest waters keep a polar bear from its goal © Shutterstock
Not even the iciest waters keep a polar bear from its goal
©  Shutterstock

Led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research centre in the United Kingdom and managed by the European Science Foundation, the CAREX project partners' roadmap offers a solid scientific consensus and prioritises four high—level research themes: stressful environments (responses, adaptation and evolution); life and habitability; biodiversity, bioenergetics and interactions in extreme environments; contributions of life in extreme environments to biogeochemical cycles and responses to environmental change. According to them, these themes are the basis for a future global collaborative initiative.

Putting the research spotlight on life in extreme environments calls for multidisciplinary action — only by combining scientific expertise from various fields, including ecological theory, biodiversity and evolutionary biology, and driving technical developments, can we forge new knowledge at the highest level.

Year after year, life on earth makes necessary changes in order to survive the planet's harsh conditions. Probing the conditions that animals and plants, and even microbes, face daily could help us shed new light on the origins of our planet's organisms, as well as give us the impetus to search for potential extraterrestrial life.

Such investigations also help researchers address issues that impact human life: how to better understand the effects of climate change, how to improve food production and how to find new medical or biotechnological products. Adaptations found in extreme environments also help fuel advances in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.

'This research is time—critical,' says Dr Cynan Ellis—Evans from the BAS, who chaired the report. 'Research on life in extreme environments is a meeting point for a wide range of scientific communities. Our roadmap is a critical step towards closely coordinating these specialist fields, and for identifying the technological developments we need to help us to access these harsh and often remote environments and unique organisms.'

The priorities outlined in the report are the focus of the programme of the CAREX conference in Dublin, Ireland in October of this year. Here, scientists will convene to discuss and present the state of the art and latest developments in studies investigating life in extreme environments.

The roadmap also includes an analysis of the infrastructure, enabling technologies and research facilities needed, in addition to suggestions for education and outreach programmes.

Key partners of the CAREX consortium are the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Matis—Prokaria (Iceland), the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS, France), the National Research Council (Italy), and the Centro de Astrobiología (INTA—CSIC, Spain).

Associated partners of CAREX are from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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