About the Action

About the Action

Description of the Action

European Network In CHemical Ecology: translating the language of life into sustainability

E-NICHE will help unify the different branches of chemical ecology (CE) by bringing together researchers who study natural compounds that can act as semiochemicals (i.e., communication signals). At present, collaborations among these researchers are limited because CE is an extremely fragmented field. E-NICHE will foster partnerships between (a) scientists studying aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems; (b) natural products chemists, biochemists, and ecologists; (c) vertebrate biologists and entomologists; (d) plant and animal biologists; (e) zoologists and molecular biologists; and (f) neurobiologists and microbiologists. Their interactions will generate original ideas and perspectives while simultaneously meeting societal needs, a challenge that involves the creation of new chemical formulations, novel molecules, and innovative applications for natural compounds.

This work will be nourished by a deeper understanding of the living world through the lens of chemical mediation, the main system of biological communication. It will also aim to prevent the loss of the chemical biodiversity found in nature, under threat because of global changes. Consequently, E-NICHE’s overarching objective is to establish a strong, extended European CE network that catalyses international, interdisciplinary, and cross-sectoral exchanges with a view to building knowledge and intergenerational sustainable development solutions. Via the new network created by E-NICHE, researchers will broaden their breadth of knowledge, define new research directions, and transform their discoveries into pioneering solutions.

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Action Objectives

The main aim of the E-NICHE Action is to defragment Chemical Ecology (CE) research in the European Union (EU)

Research Coordination Objectives

The E-NICHE COST Action has the following Research Coordination Objectives (RCOs):

Develop standardised terminology to describe the different chemical interactions and mediation modes observed in the living world with a view to defragmenting the CE community. It is essential to arrive at standardised definitions for the terms used in CE so that chemical ecologists in different disciplines have a shared lexicon. For example, the words semiochemical, infochemical, specialised metabolite, secondary metabolite, chemical cue, and signal all have similar meanings but may be used in slightly different ways, depending on the research area. Such can lead to misunderstandings. Achieving this objective will cement the foundation for future collaborative projects and publications. It will also lead researchers to build and adopt an interdisciplinary lexicon, where the field’s terminology is clearly defined. This lexicon will be made freely available on the E-NICHE website. Breaking down the walls that separate chemical ecologists should shed new light on the living world, where natural molecules function as the words of a universal language. (D1.1)

Develop a conceptual framework for understanding the evolution and mechanistic underpinnings of chemical mediation that will be shared by chemical ecologists in different disciplines (e.g., ecology, chemistry, biology, humanities, mathematics). The Action will identify the factors driving speciation, adaptation, and convergent evolution in relation to chemical communication. In the current context of global changes, it is important to compare and contrast processes across diverse taxa, ecosystems, and environments. Chemical communication will be studied among organisms at a broad scale, regardless of system type (e.g., active or passive, positive or negative, neutral or priming). (D1.1-4; D2.1-3)

Share existing knowledge and defragment CE to promote understanding of the origins and ecological roles of chemical diversity, molecular modes of action, and compound biosynthesis pathways. In addition to being a strength, CE’s multidisciplinarity is also a weakness: chemical ecologists do not always exchange information in an effective manner. E-NICHE will tackle this issue by strengthening cross-disciplinary and international relationships among CE researchers. Through collaborative efforts, this new CE network will document the chemodiversity present in diverse ecosystems. The resulting (bio)chemical libraries can then be screened by private companies, allowing them to develop a range of potential applications. Furthermore, research on the structure and metabolic pathways of natural substances will lead to the discovery of new products/processes via biomimetics, using such tools as bioinspiration, synthetic biology, or chemomimicry. (D1.1-4; D2.1-3; D3.1)

Share CE resources among E-NICHE participants while also granting access to stakeholders and the general scientific community. We will compile a list of all the CE databases, modelling systems, mathematical analyses, and statistics currently used by the teams and labs in the E-NICHE network. We will do the same for the EU platforms that carry out metagenomics, chromatography, spectroscopy, spectrometry, electrophysiology, olfactometry, proteomics, metabolomics, and spectrum imaging; this list will also include observatories, macrocosms, and microcosms. Both lists will be published on the E-NICHE website to (a) promote sharing of knowledge and tools; (b) raise public awareness of the EU’s strong commitment to CE research; and (c) make practical information about these resources available to young researchers and any other interested parties. Researchers can embark on short-term scientific missions (STSMs) to carry out work in the network’s labs and technical platforms. Sharing information, technologies, and study systems in this way will promote mobility and collaboration within and beyond the E-NICHE community. (D3.1-5)

Assess global dissemination of the knowledge gleaned using CE and highlight its potential to generate sustainable solutions for a changing world, with a focus on EU issues. It is a challenge to implement innovative and sustainable applied solutions in wide ranging domains such as biological pest control, antifouling, aquaculture, agriculture, and human health. Yet, such efforts are crucial to limiting anthropogenic impacts. To this end, we must understand the factors involved in the introduction and effects of invasive species and environmental contaminants; species adaptability to ecosystems; climate change; and environmental sustainability. Consequently, it will be essential to define a suite of indicators and measurement tools suited to evaluating the effects of human activity on biodiversity and chemobiodiversity. The broader goal is to inform public policy and disseminate ENICHE’s results to the scientific community, stakeholders, and the general public with a view to preserving these sources of richness. European decision makers should thus be strongly encouraged to consider the impact of global change on chemical mediation and chemobiodiversity. (D4.1 7)

Capacity-building Objectives

The E-NICHE COST Action will pursue several Capacity-Building Objectives (CBOs):

Promote interactions among CE disciplines to foster collaboration among EU researchers. In general, the disciplines that contribute to CE are compartmentalised. Researchers are thus frequently unaware of each other’s work and the connections among their fundamental or applied discoveries. An interdisciplinary approach, such as the one used in CE, is well suited to creating bridges between otherwise isolated scientific disciplines. (RCO 1 – WG4)

Build collaborations among CE researchers, SMEs, and larger companies. CE could greatly benefit from interactions between scientists working on fundamental versus applied research. Also of value are collaborations between the public and private sectors, which have been rare in the EU to date. Indeed, to develop innovative and sustainable solutions, CE must construct relationships across EU sectors, a task in which STSMs could be particularly helpful. (RCOs 2,3,4 – WG4)

Establish a pan-European network in CE. By establishing a CE network, we will generate a critical mass of complementary expertise, which will fuel scientific and technological progress in CE at the international scale. (RCOs 1,4,5 – WG4)

Inspire the next generation of chemical ecologists to explore new lines of investigation and novel research ideas. Developing a shared research agenda centred on new and emerging questions in CE will encourage young researchers to head in novel directions and will replenish the field’s pool of talent, with Europe in the vanguard. (RCOs 1–5 – WG4)

Unite chemical ecologists of different disciplines, ages, genders, and countries of origin. E NICHE will bring together participants with broad ranging backgrounds because diversity is an important strength. Indeed, the network’s participants will help shape future collaborations in CE. ENICHE will thus unite the best CE researchers and stakeholders in the EU while also accounting for differences in resource availability, as countries differ in R&D capacity. (RCOs 1,4,5 – WG4)