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Rare diseases are diseases which affect not more than 5 per 10 000 persons in the European Union. It is estimated that rare diseases encompass between 6 000 and 8 000 different entities which affect altogether more than 30 million people in the EU. However, patient populations for individual rare diseases are small and dispersed, which makes international collaboration crucial. Despite the recent advances in understanding the molecular pathogenesis of these diseases, today many rare diseases still lack means of molecular diagnosis. An accurate molecular diagnosis is an essential starting point for the understanding of mechanisms leading to diseases as well as for adequate patient management and family counselling and it paves the way for therapy development.
Trade and the movement of goods and people have facilitated the transfer and spread of plant and animal diseases, the prevalence of which is expected to increase further as a result of intensification, changes in agricultural practices and climatic variations. Emerging diseases in plants or terrestrial animals can be a substantial impact on agricultural and forest productivity, trade and public health. Appropriate and rapid responses by decision-makers need to be informed by scientific evidence, addressing as far as possible all components of disease management in particular with regard to epidemiology (e.g. source, transmissibility, susceptible species), host-pathogen interactions, diagnostics, means of prevention and control, as well as risk management.
Pesticides are a crucial input in agriculture used to combat plant pests and diseases and secure quality and yield in plant production. At the same time, concerns are mounting over the effects of plant protection products on the environment, non-target organisms and human health. Consumers and the food chain alike are increasingly demanding food products that are residue-low or residue-free and produced in more sustainable ways. This applies particularly to fruit and vegetables, which are often consumed fresh without prior processing.
Biodiversity and various ecosystems serve agricultural production in many different ways, not all of which are well known. The smart use of these services can make agriculture more sustainable and reduce chemical inputs. The development of agricultural systems that maximise such services requires a "knowledge leap" based on advances in various areas of science, from new farming practices to modern technologies. The sustained delivery of these services by semi-natural habitats depends heavily on their botanical composition and spatial configuration. Beyond the field and farm level, cooperation between farmers and other actors is required at landscape level. There is a real need for a wide range of data to characterise and benchmark sustainable farming systems under various socio-economic and pedo-climatic conditions in Europe, and to find effective ways of encouraging farmers to adopt them.
Bees (including managed and wild bees, social and solitary bees) are subject to numerous pressures in the modern world: exposure to cocktails of agrochemicals, various pathogens, lack of abundance and diversity of feed, flowers, etc., and possibly even climate change. Stressors do not necessarily act in isolation, but often in combination, and may differ between warm and cold geographical areas. Regulations and beekeeping or agricultural practices do not currently address such interactions. Even studying the interactions poses a major challenge, due to the difficulty of testing and control in natural conditions. There are gaps in our understanding of the underlying mechanisms and how to interpret them in order to discern trends and understand the natural biology of colony health how it interacts with the stress factors. Previous and on-going EU projects have sought to shed some light in particular areas.
The new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) envisages a regionalised ecosystem-based approach relying on detailed measures proposed jointly by Member States under the umbrella of common principles and benchmarks set up in EU legislation. This will require choosing appropriate management units (fisheries, fishing gears, sea basins, fish stocks, stock assemblages, target fleets, geographical units, etc.) and combining in an innovative manner management instruments and new governance mechanisms adapted to specific regional needs. Implementing this new approach to fisheries management is already a serious challenge for fisheries in European Atlantic waters. For Mediterranean fisheries, the challenge of regionalisation is exacerbated by the legal situation (narrow bands of EU waters with larger areas outside national jurisdictions), generally poor state of fish stocks (or lack of knowledge thereof), narrow continental shelves and the high number of small fishing vessels.
Proposals should focus on an identified number of fisheries that are important for the fishing fleets of multiple EU countries and should respond to the priorities of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The proposals should review existing knowledge and perform multidisciplinary research to help close important knowledge gaps that have a significant impact on the management of key target and by-catch species and that currently limit the advice that relevant bodies can give. Research results should be able to be applied immediately to provide a more solid knowledge base and advice on fisheries management.
Arctic permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, stored in the upper metres of the ground. Thawing of permafrost may trigger the release of this carbon and its transformation to greenhouse gases, reinforcing global warming (permafrost carbon feedback). Moreover, permafrost coasts make up 34% of the world's coasts. Increasing sea-level in combination with changing sea-ice cover and permafrost thawing expose these coastal areas to higher risks. Knowledge gaps exist in relation to the transfer of material - including organic matter - from land to sea and its fate, with the consequence that processes of accumulation and/or subsea permafrost degradation are not accounted for in global climate and Earth system models. The pressing challenge is to understand the impact of permafrost thawing on climate change and its implications for the environment, for the indigenous populations and the local communities. Finally, permafrost thawing affects the stability of built infrastructure.