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Biodiversity: what on earth is it?

Visit  Natural Environment Research Council website

18 May 2005

Biodiversity, or all life on this planet, provides us with food, medicines, fuel, timber, clean air and water. Some scientists believe we are losing biodiversity at mass extinction rates. Does this matter?

A new interactive exhibition, launched this week by two of the UK’s Research Councils, will answer this question and many more. The exhibition takes you from the chalky grasslands of southern England to a thermal vent in the Atlantic Ocean, to polluted wastelands to show you how important biodiversity is and how we can work with it.

Biodiversity: what on earth is it? is launched at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on 21 May to coincide with ‘Scottish Biodiversity Week’. The exhibition, designed and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will stay in Edinburgh for a month and spend the summer at the Glasgow Science Centre. A tour of the UK is planned to start later this year.

Biodiversity: what on earth is it? looks at the science behind our understanding of biodiversity. For example, it shows how studies on simple organisms, such as the fruit fly, can help us to learn about functions of our own bodies. The exhibition illustrates how biodiversity feeds us, how it provides many of our antibiotics or how it can be used to clean up pollution.

It also shows how biodiversity is changing and how it is affected by human activity. The exhibition tackles challenges such as how to measure and describe biodiversity. It shows what can happen when foreign insects, plants and animals, such as the grey squirrel, push out native species.

Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said, “We need to understand more about the underlying biological processes that generate and maintain biodiversity. BBSRC is developing its policy on biodiversity research and is currently consulting on people’s views and priorities.”

The Natural Environment Research Council's Marine and Freshwater Microbial Biodiversity Programme recently discovered a new species of bacterium in deep-sea sediment with properties that seem to inhibit MRSA. Findings will be presented in Edinburgh at a press conference for the programme on Tuesday 24 May.

Professor Alan Thorpe, Chief Executive of NERC, said, “Research into biodiversity is critical for sustainable development. Our work in this area is helping industry, government and farmers make the most of natural resources. Our biodiversity programmes have substantially increased our knowledge of soil systems, marine and freshwater environments and extreme habitats. This research will be key to coping with changes such as urbanisation and climate change.”


Notes to editors

Biodiversity – what on earth is it? will be opened to the public in Edinburgh during Scottish Biodiversity Week (21-29 May) which incorporates International Biodiversity Day (22 May) and then daily until 19 June. Following the launch in Edinburgh the exhibition will travel around the UK to several public venues, beginning with a summer season at Glasgow Science Centre.

A launch event is being held in evening of Friday 20 May at the Royal Botanic Garden. If you would like to attend this event please contact Matt Goode, BBSRC Media Officer, Tel: 01793 413299.

For more information about Biodiversity: what on earth is it? at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh please visit:


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

About NERC

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is one of the UK's eight Research Councils. It uses a budget of about £300 million a year to fund and carry out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. NERC trains the next generation of independent environmental scientists. It specialises in earth system science, addressing some of the key questions facing mankind such as global warming, renewable energy and sustainable economic development.

External contact

Owen Gaffney, NERC Press Officer

tel: 01793 442629

Shona Hay, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

tel: 0131 248 2900


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382