The new biobank of the Institute of Natural Sciences: an investment for the future:

In 2023, the new biobank of the RBINS was formally put in place. It is coordonated by JEMU and it consists of collections of biological tissues and DNA extracts. Since the 1990s, tens of thousands of samples have been analyzed in the Laboratory of Molecular Systematics of the RBINS. They come from many places around the world, sometime from remote geographic regions that are difficult to access (e.g. Antarctic Ocean, African tropical forests, Lake Baikal). These samples also represent many species, sometimes rare, extinct or newly described species. Most were freshly collected from living organisms, and some were sampled from precious museum specimens. In all cases, they represent unique material to study the biodiversity on earth at specific space and time spots.

The new biobank of the RBINS is now operational thanks to the recruitment of one permanent technical staff in 2023. Equipment was purchased in 2008 thanks to the National Lottery and initial workflow was developed in 2012-2015 thanks to a Agora project of Belspo.

The tissues are stored at ultra deep temperature (-70 to -80), a temperature that is excellent to preserve the original quality of many biomolecules. If today, DNA is the focus of the research, other kinds of molecules such as RNA or proteins could be investigated in the future. The DNA extracts are stored at room temperature, in a dry mineral matrix that should preserve DNA for long term. This promising type of storage is interesting because it does not require any energy to maintain a cold temperature.
Finally, all data associated with the biobank will be integrated in the general collection management system of the RBINS, DaRWIN the Data Research Warehouse Information Network to offer easier access to molecular resources to the worldwide scientific community (Dec. 2023).

Ancient DNA and Paleo-Pathological Studies at Pachacamac, Peru:

Ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis can be a useful tool for sex determination, general mitochondrial lineage (haplogroup) and disease diagnosis in human remains. However, DNA contamination of archaeological material is a recurrent problematic, since excavation, handling and storage usually don't fit with the precautions recommended for ancient DNA analysis. Here, we present preliminary aDNA results from several human individuals recovered from the monumental archaeological site of Pachacamac, Peru, during the Ychsma Project (ULB). This corpus dates from 500 to 1400 AD and is suspected to contain a high proportion of diseases. Our objectives are to complete the demographic information and to characterize the health status of the population buried in this pilgrimage site dedicated to the eponymous healing god. Our preliminary results show that, despite an important modern human DNA contamination, a strict selection of DNA reads based on short sizes and deamination damage patterns that are typical for ancient DNA, allow us to determine the genetic sex of 70% of the individuals. The challenging detection of ancient DNA from human pathogens requires additional precautions. Using numerous negatives and environmental controls, and independent data analysis strategies, our approach aims at characterizing paleo-pathological conditions in this major archaeological corpus (Nov. 2023).

The potential effect of farming practices on the microbiome of Tanzanian wild bee pollinators:

ISeBAF (Insect Service and Biodiversity in Agroecological Farming) is a collaborative project between Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro, Tanzania, Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA), Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS), Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). This research aims at testing the relationships between agroecological farming and insect diversity by comparing agroecological and conventional farms in the Morogoro region (East-Central Tanzania) and by focussing on cucurbit crops commonly grown in Tanzania. Microbiomic analyses were carried out on wild bees sampled in conventional and agroecological crops. Results showed that the farming practices as well as the altitude had an impact on bee’s microbiome. Indeed, bees sampled in conventional crops exhibited different micro-organisms communities than those sampled in agroecological crops. Significant differences were also observed between bees sampled at high and low altitude.
Phylogenomic analyses are currently ongoing to sequence the genome of 120 African wild bee species. The generated genomic data will not only be a valuable resource to make an inventory of the wild bee’s community in that region but will also be used to investigate the impact of farming practices on pollinators diversity (Oct. 2023).


JEMU attended the annual congress of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE2023) and presented a poster on "Using ancient DNA to identify Bos primigenius in ancient cattle remains from Belgium". Authors: Sonet G, Backeljau T, Ervynck A, Germonpré M, Goffette Q, Vangestel C & De Cupere B. Book of contributed posters – the abstracts: 234-235, SMBE2023, 23-27 July 2023, Ferrara, Italy.

Here is the poster.

2 new job vacancies in the BopCo team (closed):

1 post-doc at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Brussels) and 1 MSc at the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Tervuren).
Offer in Dutch and in French. Deadline: 15 August 2023 (Aug. 2023).

Job offer (closed):

MSc research assistant (m/f/x) in biology on epigenomics (May 2023).

Job offer (closed):

Technician for the DNA lab and DNA collection of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Apr. 2023).

Running JEMU project:

Using genome skimming to investigate the mega-diversity of the stygobiont genus Metastenasellus (Crustacea, Isopoda) in African groundwater (Aug. 2022).

Job offer (closed):

A renewable one-year full time job is available at the RBINS: MSc research assistant (m/f/x) in biology (DNA analysis of wild bees). Deadline for applications: 15/07/2022


JEMU attended (online) to the International Conference on DNA bacoding and Biodiversity in Sofia, Bulgaria, 25-27 May 2022. A poster was presented on the DNA barcoding of isopods of the genus Metastenasellus in water wells in Benin and Cameroon: Sonet G., Lagnika M., Kayoc R. T., Flot J.-F., & Martin P., 2022, New insights in the groundwater species diversity of the isopod genus Metastenasellus in Benin and Cameroon, Book of abstracts of the International Conference on DNA Barcoding and Biodiversity, 25-27 May 2022, Sofia, Bulgaria, poster EP21: 231 - 232.

Here is the poster and a video of the poster presentation

New project:

Insect Service and Biodiversity in Agroecological Farming (ISeBAF) is a project coordinated by Massimiliano Virgilio (JEMU - RMCA) and funded by Belspo (BRAIN-BE 2.0 – Belgian Research Action Through Interdisciplinary Networks, 2018 - 2023). It aims at providing a reference test-case with a first quantitative description of relationships between agroecological farming, biodiversity of insect pollinators and pests, and cucurbit crop production in sub-Saharan Africa.

This project is articulated with other projects for a more global initiative: The quest for sustainable farming methods: agroecology in Tanzania (Feb. 2022).


The role of JEMU in the European project SYNTHESYS+, joint research activity 2 (of work package 7): "Towards cost-effective protocols for DNA sequencing from preserved museum specimens" (Dec. 2021).

New equipment:

Recently (2020-2021), the DNA labs of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and the Royal Museum for Central Africa purchased new equipment for real-time sequencing of short and ultra-long fragments of >4 millions of nucleotides (a MinIon and a Flongle). New equipment was also purchased for the more traditional sequencing of short fragments (Sanger's method) of 100-800 nucleotides (a SeqStudio) and for the evaluation and preparation of DNA extracts (a Pippin Pulse to separate big fragments, a Vacuüm concentrator to concentrate DNA solutions, a thermocycler and a new Geldoc system to visualise DNA fragments after electrophoresis (Jul. 2021).

JEMU call for collaborative research proposals - 2021:

JEMU provides technical and financial support to molecular genetic analysis of Natural History collections housed in the RBINS and RMCA. In this context, JEMU launches periodical calls for collaborative research projects with resident researchers from these two institutions. To submit an application (deadline on 30 April 2021), please follow the guidelines here (Mar. 2021).


Video of our colleagues of BopCo (the Barcoding Facility for Organisms and Tissues of Policy Concern) demonstrating the process of DNA-based species identification using the case of the bushmeat samples we identified for the journalists of Pano (vrtNWS) as a case story (Dec. 2020).

The Pano documentary, the bushmeat project of BopCo and the rest of the BopCo project are avalable here.

Running project:

Assessing genome-wide genetic variation in museum specimens of Tyto alba collected 10-50 years ago in Belgium (Jul. 2020).

Running project:

Exploring the diversity and phylogeny of Oriental praying mantises (Mantodea) based on recently collected material and preserved museum specimens (Apr. 2020).

Running project:

Evolutionary history of the cichlid assemblages of the Lake Victoria Region Superflock reconstructed using whole genome seqencing (Mar. 2020)

Running project:

Mitochondrial DNA analysis of ancient musk oxes from a possible relict population of Belgium (Feb. 2020)

Running project:

Testing less destructive sampling techniques for DNA identification of manufactured animal material from archaeological sites (Jan. 2020)


JEMU will contribute to SYNTHEYS+, the European infrastructure for natural history collections. Together with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the Botanic Garden Meise, the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, the Hellenic Center for Marine Research, the Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin and the Natural History Museum London, its task is to develop the protocol infrastructure for DNA sequencing-on-demand (DNAoD). This work builds on a previous review of the current state of the field for sequencing preserved natural history collections undertaken during SYNTHESYS3. The outstanding research challenge is optimisation of protocols and workflows while also making them routine, cost-effective and scalable. Effective and efficient protocols will be developed to overcome the degradation and low concentrations of DNA in many museum specimens. New developments in sequencing platforms and technologies as well as recent progress in molecular biology protocols, will be tested and deployed to boost accessibility of the genetic and genomic data of preserved collections (Dec. 2019).

2018-2019 Highlights for the period 2018-2019
2016-2017 Highlights for the period 2016-2017
2014-2015 Highlights for the period 2014-2015
2011-2013 Highlights for the period 2011-2013

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith