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Genomes of all 66,000 UK species of plants, animals and fungi to be sequenced

The genetic code of 66,000 species in the UK will be sequenced by the Wellcome Sanger Institute in collaboration with the Natural History Museum and several international organisations. This is part of a global effort to sequence the genomes of all 1.5 million known species of animals, plants, protozoa and fungi on Earth. 

The UK effort, known as the Darwin Tree of Life Project, officially launches on November 1 2018 in London alongside the global effort, the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP). The EBP will ultimately create a new foundation for biology to drive solutions towards preserving biodiversity and sustaining human societies

The Museum will be leveraging its taxonomic expertise, collections and community to help gather samples and develop new standard operating procedures in how to collect and sequence particular groups of organisms.

Dr Tim Littlewood, Head of Life Sciences Department at the Museum, says, 'Whether you are interested in food, disease, or speciation, the history of how every organism on the planet has diverged and adapted to its environment is recorded in its genetic makeup. How you then harness that is dependent on your ability to understand it.'

A greater understanding of Earth’s biodiversity and the responsible stewarding of its resources are among the most crucial scientific and social challenges of the new millennium. The overcoming of these challenges requires new scientific knowledge of evolution and interactions among millions of the planet’s organisms.

Highlighting the significance of the study, Dr Littlewood explains, 'A lot of the UK’s species lists and ID guides are now over 100 years old,' says Tim. 'We’ve not actually redressed, or returned to, our own natural history for a very long time in any grand system. And we've not yet looked at it in a modern sense, either.'

The Darwin Tree of Life project will establish a new baseline assessment of UK biodiversity as seen through genomics. It will also help in looking at how the myriad of species that live right across the country have changed over the last few centuries.

Tim says, 'We will be using modern methods to get a really good window on the present and the past. And of course a window on the past gives you a prospective model on the future.'

It has been estimated that the project will take around 10 years to complete, and will likely give yield a cross section of organisms and different ecosystems. All of the data collected in during the project will be stored in public domain databases and made freely available for research use.


Notes for editors

Media contact: Tel: +44 (0) 20 7942 5654/+44 (0) 7799 690151 Email: press@nhm.ac.uk

The Natural History Museum exists to inspire a love of the natural world and unlock answers to the big issues facing humanity and the planet. It is a world-leading science research centre, and through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling issues such as food security, eradicating diseases and managing resource scarcity. The Natural History Museum is the most visited natural history museum in Europe and the top science attraction in the UK; we welcome more than 4.5 million visitors each year and our website receives over 500,000 unique visitors a month. People come from around the world to enjoy our galleries and events and engage both in-person and online with our science and educational activities through innovative programmes and citizen science projects.

Discover South Kensington brings together the Natural History Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute is one of the world's leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease. To celebrate its 25th year in 2018, the Institute is sequencing 25 new genomes of species in the UK. @sangerinstitute

Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We’re a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate. 

Collaborating Institutes

The UC Davis Genome Center serves the Omics needs of a large community of scientists, government and industry partners. State-of-the-art facilities for genome sequencing, gene expression analysis, an NIH-funded metabolomics core, proteomics and bioinformatics support research activities of more than full-time 40 faculty members involved in fundamental and translational research on agriculture, the environment and human health. The Genome Center is the current administrative home of the Earth BioGenome Project.  

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Wakehurst, Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden, attract over 2.1 million visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.

The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research Institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) - £5.43m in 2017/18 - as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.

EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities. 

Edinburgh Genomics is world renowned for the provision of advanced genomics services. Rooted in the University of Edinburgh, it produces high-quality, high-volume data for global collaborators and customers across academia, government and industry. Investment in the latest genome sequencing technologies have enabled the organization to lead the way for genomics in Scotland, providing a richer picture of genetic diversity in evolution and ecology and improved patient diagnosis and disease management. With trusted experts and the confidence to deliver high quality results, Edinburgh Genomics is rapidly changing global research and future patient care. 

The European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) is a global leader in the storage, analysis and dissemination of large biological datasets. We help scientists realise the potential of ‘big data’ by enhancing their ability to exploit complex information to make discoveries that benefit humankind. 

We are at the forefront of computational biology research, with work spanning sequence analysis methods, multi-dimensional statistical analysis and data-driven biological discovery, from plant biology to mammalian development and disease. 

We are part of EMBL and are located on the Wellcome Genome Campus, one of the world’s largest concentrations of scientific and technical expertise in genomics.

Pacific Biosciences of California, Inc. (NASDAQ:PACB) offers sequencing systems to help scientists resolve genetically complex problems. Based on its novel Single Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT®) technology, Pacific Biosciences’ products enable: de novo genome assembly to finish genomes in order to more fully identify, annotate and decipher genomic structures; full-length transcript analysis to improve annotations in reference genomes, characterize alternatively spliced isoforms in important gene families, and find novel genes; targeted sequencing to more comprehensively characterize genetic variations; and real-time kinetic information for epigenome characterization. Pacific Biosciences’ technology provides high accuracy, ultra-long reads, uniform coverage, and the ability to simultaneously detect epigenetic changes. PacBio® sequencing systems, including consumables and software, provide a simple, fast, end-to-end workflow for SMRT Sequencing.