Genomes of all known UK species to be sequenced

Genomes of all known UK species to be sequenced

1 Nov 2018 - 13:20

About the study

  • Researchers to sequence and annotate the genomes of 66,000 UK species of animal, plant, protozoa and fungi  
  • The Darwin Tree of Life project forms the UK contribution to the global effort to sequence all 1.5 million known eukaryotic (organisms whose cells have a nucleus enclosed within membranes) species on Earth
  • The project will enhance understanding of genomic diversity and evolution, support British ecology and environmental science, and aid protection and restoration of biodiversity

1 November, Hinxton – The genetic code of 66,000 UK species will be sequenced by the Wellcome Sanger Institute in a major collaboration with EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and other partner organisations as part of a global effort to sequence all 1.5 million known species of animal, plant, protozoa and fungi on Earth.

The UK project, known as the Darwin Tree of Life Project, launches today in London (1 November) alongside the global effort, the Earth BioGenome Project. The launch is marked by the first gathering of the key scientific partners and funders from around the globe to discuss the mission.

The Earth BioGenome Project will ultimately create a new foundation for biology to drive solutions for preserving biodiversity and sustaining human societies.

Building an open database

Once sequenced by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, EMBL-EBI will assist in annotating the genomes and assessing how the data can be stored and accessed. The Natural History Museum in London, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Earlham Institute, Edinburgh Genomics, University of Edinburgh and others will also be assisting in sample collection, DNA sequencing, assembling, annotating and analysing the genomes, and storing the data.

“How the information is presented is going to be very important,” explains Richard Durbin, a professor in the department of genetics at the University of Cambridge and an associate faculty member at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. “EMBL-EBI’s experience in dealing with very large numbers of reference genomes, and identifying the relationships between the genes within them, will provide the project with an essential tool. The aim is to create an open data infrastructure on which researchers can build, and EMBL-EBI has a very central role to play.”

Advancing technologies

The Darwin Tree of Life project is now possible due to recent and expected advances in sequencing technology which mean the costs involved have significantly reduced in recent years, while throughput capacity has increased. These advances also make it possible to produce genomes of a much higher quality. Researchers can now sequence continuous stretches of tens of thousands of base pairs of DNA, an increase of more than 100 times from the methods historically used in genomics.

The project is estimated to cost approximately £100 million over the first five years, and the sequencing of 66,000 species’ genomes will take around 10 years.

“The Darwin Tree of Life project is an exciting opportunity to understand life, evolution, ecosystems and biodiversity by leveraging genomics and our experience in creating biological data resources that are freely available to everyone in the world,” adds Paul Flicek, a senior scientist and group leader at EMBL-EBI.

Sequencing species in the UK and worldwide will revolutionise understanding of biology and evolution, bolster conservation efforts, help protect and restore biodiversity, and in return create new benefits for society and human welfare. 

Find out more

Earth Biogenome Project

Image credit: Wellcome Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Sanger Institute will use core funding from Wellcome to introduce a research programme in Tree of Life genomics. Further funding support for sample collection, sequencing machines, data infrastructure is required.

The Earth BioGenome Project activities are currently being funded by the participating organisations as well as private foundations, governmental organisations and crowd-funding sources. Participating institutions are committed to raising funds to complete the project in 10 years. Significant funds have already been raised to meet the $600 million goal necessary to complete Phase 1 of the project, to produce approximately 9000 reference quality genomes across all taxonomic families.

Contact the news team

Vicky Hatch | Communications Officer

Oana Stroe | Senior Communications Officer

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