The Project

The ChallenGen project aims at applying both classical and new (derived from Next Generation Sequencing technologies) genetic tools to three challenges identified within the framework of benthic marine research. It is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. The project team comprises two main groups, one belonging to the Marine Ecology Department of the Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes (Spanish Research Council, CSIC), and the second one comprising members of the Departments of Genetics and Animal Biology of the University of Barcelona. We also have foreign participants belonging to the University of Southampton and the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences.

This project represents a step forward in the already long endeavour of the participant groups to develop and apply molecular techniques to the study of the benthos. Our emphasis is on oriented research and we seek to develop the best available tools and generate new information to address the following challenges: 1) to tackle and mitigate the problem of introduced species, 2) to develop new tools for biodiversity assessment and 3) to predict foreseeable changes in a scenario of increasing temperature. These three challenges constitute the three objectives of the proposal. Some of these objectives will represent applications of still-developing techniques, so we expect to contribute not only in generating data, but also in developing new methods that can be applied to other fields.

Introduced species Biodiversity assessment Adaptation

For this challenge, we plan to study two recent ascidian invaders that constitute pests in the bivalve cultures of the Ebro Delta, combining genetic and ecological approaches, with the goal of providing guidance and advice to mitigate their negative effects.

We want to develop new methods based on environmental DNA to determine the biodiversity of benthic communities with a level of precision and repeatability so far unattainable. We also wish to analyse genetically changes in populations over space and time and relate them to environmental factors.

This challenge will involve the generation and analysis of genome wide scans of ecologically relevant species (engineer species and endemic species). We wish to identify polymorphisms related to adaptation to different temperature regimes and thus to be able to predict future trends of these landscape important species in the context of continued warming.


Aside from continuing our involvement in publishing our results in scientific journals, we will put particular emphasis in translating the results to stakeholders and local enterprises in the form of management guidance, reports, establishment of repeatable protocols and setting up of baseline datasets for future studies. We are also committed to the dissemination of the results to the general public and to raise awareness about some of the pressures faced by our littoral systems.