New 'omic' technologies have transformed biology by allowing scientists to read genomes (genomics) and to measure the amount of proteins (proteomics) or other chemicals (metabolomics) within living cells and organisms. Tiny amounts of DNA can be collected from the environment (environmental DNA, eDNA) to measure biodiversity and monitor the health of our soils, rivers and seas. This creates a tremendous opportunity to understand the diversity of different individuals and species within the natural environment, their evolution, and the diversity of different characters and forms that allow them to live within their environment. Understanding biodiversity is more pressing than ever, given the rate at which it is being lost from the planet and the central role that it plays in allowing species and ecosystems to respond to, and survive, climate change. Environmental omics also provides new tools to safeguard human and animal health by detecting threats such as pathogens in the environment.
Scientists wanting to use omic technologies in their research face significant hurdles: the equipment required costs millions of pounds and few labs can afford it; the expertise to apply these techniques is rare, particularly to species from the natural environment; and there is a lack of the specialist skills present within the environmental science community to design studies using omic technology and to then analyse the resulting data. The NERC Environmental Omics Facility (NEOF) helps scientists overcome these hurdles and equips them with the tools and skills they need to address their research questions using omics. NEOF is a unique capability within the UK that has the expertise and equipment to train scientists in omic methods, help them to understand the potential of the technology and design studies to use it, provide the means to test adventurous ideas, and to support larger-scale NERC research projects. NEOF is run by a team of scientists who are world-leading experts and cover a broad range of omics methods, with experience of applying these to questions in environmental sciences. This expertise is used to train early-stage scientists and to upskill scientists at any stage of their career. NEOF empowers the community of NERC scientists to engage with new technologies and approaches and to then use them to address questions using omics that were previously impossible to answer in environmental science. NEOF have extensive equipment and space that is used to support omic analysis for NERC scientists.
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