Darwin Tree of Life team

People in a field with trees behind them

Researchers in Ainsdale, image by Lyndall Pereira da Conceicoa

The Darwin of Life (DToL) team

Ian Barnes - Principal Investigator

I am the Researcher Leader for Ancient DNA, and the Head of the Division of Vertebrates and Anthropology in the Earth Sciences Department. I mainly work on projects that involve recovering DNA from different parts of the museum collection, from ancient humans to 20th century insects.

I am also the Principal Investigator for the Museum’s part of DToL, which means I make sure all of the science runs smoothly, and that we keep in touch with the other project partners. I am interested in getting genomes from many different species, but particularly the mammals, where we already have specimens stretching back over thousands of years.

Gavin Broad - Co-Investigator, Principal Curator in Charge of Insects

I lead on the Natural History Museum’s sampling programme, representing the museum on the DToL Samples Working Group, as well as chairing the Terrestrial Arthropods Working Group. Part of my role is to ensure we have the right people and processes in place at the Museum to make this project a success.

My research interests lie in the taxonomy and evolution of parasitoid wasps, so I’m particularly keen to see genomes from wasps which have co-opted viruses which help them overcome host immune defences. And genomes from any of the species I’ve described from the UK would be rather neat!

Matt Clark - Collaborating Researcher and Senior Responsible Owner

I am a Researcher Leader in Genomics in the Science Department of NHM. I have over 25 years of genomics experience across plant, animal, and environmental DNA (metagenomics). My research typically has an element of cutting-edge technology or innovation in either molecular biology or bioinformatics, its been interesting to switch from modern to collection material since I moved to the museum in 2018.

As the senior responsible owner (SRO) for the Natural History Museum’s DToL project, I work with the DToL team and others to ensure that the project meets its objectives, delivers the projected outcomes and realises the benefits. I’m particularly interested in agriculturally relevant genomes, and how we can use the Museum's collections to add knowledge to the biology of species with new high-quality DToL genomes.

Jonathan Gabriel - Project Coordinator

I’m responsible for the financial and project management of the DToL project as well as overall operational coordination. This involves liaising with the DToL team and Sanger on budgetary and operational matters and ensuring that everything is in place for the project team to successfully deliver.

I also chair the fortnightly Museum DToL meeting, which brings together the whole team to discuss how the project is progressing. I have a background in molecular biology and it is amazing to see these techniques being used for such a worthwhile and necessary biodiversity project. The project will provide a huge amount of genome data which will support UK biodiversity research going forward and I’m really proud that I’m a part of it!

Ben Price - Collaborating Researcher

I'm the Senior Curator in Charge of small orders, which is a diverse group of insect orders and non-insect hexapods. My research focus includes the taxonomy of freshwater invertebrates, exploring their role as bioindicators of water quality and accelerating their identification and water quality monitoring through DNA-based methods.

In the DToL project, I help lead on the sampling of freshwater invertebrates, working with the Museum team and our network of external partners to ensure specimens are available for sequencing. I'm particularly interested in using the genomes of freshwater invertebrates to explore freshwater biodiversity through environmental DNA - the trace fragments of DNA that all organisms leave behind.

Chris Fletcher - Senior Research Assistant

I am a research assistant for the DToL project with a specialism in marine invertebrates. I previously spent 8 years collecting, preserving and identifying marine invertebrates and fish for UK consultancies, gaining in-depth and broad knowledge of the identification of most groups of marine macrofauna from the British Isles.

As well as helping with collecting specimens, BioBlitz events, curation and day to day sampling of DNA from species, I am looking forward to encountering many more marine species I have not seen before, developing skills in advanced imagery work, learning about phylogenetics and getting stuck into some research!

Jordan Beasley - Postdoctoral Research Assistant

I am responsible for the DNA barcoding for DToL at the museum. I take samples through their journey from DNA extraction to sequencing and data analysis. This sometimes includes troubleshooting tricky sample types and developing and optimising protocols. I love getting to work with such a wide taxonomic range of samples from fungi to insects, birds and even deep-sea marine critters!  

I have worked on a range of conservation genetics projects and earned my PhD in genetics with my project on wildlife crime forensics focusing on birds of prey. I’ve also worked in industry in research and development for human forensics and whole genome sequencing applications. I love being part of the DToL project and contributing to unlocking the genomes of so many amazing creatures, I can’t wait to see what new things there are to discover from them!  

Jacqueline Mackenzie-Dodds - Collections Manager, Molecular and Frozen Tissues

I manage the Molecular Collections facility (MCf) at the Museum, developing and curating the 2M biodiversity sample repository, making biodiversity genetic resources accessible to the wider scientific community.

I have over 30 years of experience in and laboratory management and molecular biology research from both industry and academia with research at the Museum including a wide variety of projects in non-human species in taxonomy and evolution.

From 2008, I have focussed on molecular collections management and biobanking, aligning and collaborating in initiatives in the EU and US including ESBB, ISBER, GGBN, SYNTHESYS, Frozen Ark and more recently CryoArks and DToL projects.

DToL specimens and samples for all taxa are stored in MCf freezers and liquid nitrogen tanks, sorted, formatted (2D barcoded) and accessioned into the Museum's molecular reference collections by the DToL Sample Curator, Heather Allen.

Inez Januszczak - Sampling Coordinator

It's my responsibility to coordinate and manage sample collection and track the progress of each specimen as it goes from the field or externally donated to being databased in the Museum's CMS, processed in the laboratories and then shipped to the Wellcome Sanger Institute to begin whole genome sequencing.

I work closely with everyone on the DToL team (within the Museum and with external partners) to ensure we are targeting the right species, maintaining a good taxonomic breath of samples and collecting the highest quality specimens. I am the Co-Chair of the Chordata working group on the project and take part in specimen R and D discussions for chordates, arthropods and marine Metazoa.

I have a background in animal pathology and wildlife epidemiology and have worked in scientific institutions in England and Spain. I am particularly interested in native species conservation. This project plays a crucial role in mapping their genetic variability, sometimes for the very first time.

Matt Besley - Molecular Data Manager

As the DToL Data Manager, my primary responsibility is to maintain comprehensive digital records of the specimens collected by the project, ensuring that each is meticulously catalogued within our Central Management System.

These specimens are then analysed to provide researchers with invaluable genetic information, such as genetic fingerprints called 'barcodes', which help to quickly identify species. I upload these barcodes and their specimen records to the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD), so that researchers across the world can benefit.

My pre-DToL background is in Biomedical Science and Novel Therapies. At the UK Health Security Agency, I saw firsthand the potential of expanding our genetic insights. Here, I worked in bacteriology labs and developed molecular testing to identify rare pathogens - the basis of studying trends in evolution and the behaviour of disease.

My role in DToL ensures that every detail of the work that we do is recorded and freely available to rapidly, and collaboratively, deepen the knowledge about the world we live in and therefore how we can benefit from and protect it.

Dominic Phillips - Research assistant

As an Invertebrate Research assistant on the DToL project, I spend a lot of my time looking at insects and other invertebrates (marine and terrestrial). This includes collecting specimens in the field and assisting in their identification, preservation and preparation for DNA barcoding and whole genome sequencing. 

I am interested in discovering more about the wealth of life on our doorstep and how we can help to preserve it for future generations. Research-wise, I am fascinated by how population genetics change over time and how they are impacted by environmental changes, as well as looking into how we can utilise the DNA Barcode data produced to investigate species taxonomy. I am particularly interested in Lepidoptera taxonomy and their species radiation throughout island ecosystems. I am currently putting together a species list for Dominican Lepidoptera.

There are many aspects of working at DToL that are incredibly exciting, such as sharing our work with the wider public, presenting our research, collaborating with special interest groups, engaging with curators in the museum and of course having the opportunity to explore the large variety of invertebrates which have been collected so far!