Prof Emma Teeling

Associate Faculty and Director of the Laboratory of Molecular Evolution and Mammalian Phylogenetics at University College Dublin

I study and compare the genomes and evolutionary histories of bats with other mammals to better understand and manage human ageing and related conditions, including deafness and blindness. My work also explores the ecological niches that bats occupy so that we can better preserve the environments and ecosystems they need to survive and thrive. I co-founded the Bat1K project that seeks to map the genomes of all species of bat to provide a foundational resource for the global research community.

Myself and my team have pioneered wild bats as new model species of extended healthspan uniting field, molecular, cellular and genomic studies to uncover how bats slow down expected ageing and resist disease.

About me

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I have studied bats since I was 20 years old and now lead an internationally renowned research team at University College Dublin (UCD) where I am the Full Professor of Zoology. I established the Laboratory of Molecular Evolution and Mammalian Phylogenetics in 2005 and was the Founding Director of the Centre for Irish Bat Research at UCD.

Perhaps most pertinent to my work at Sanger is my role as a founding Co-Director of the genome consortium Bat1K. As with similar projects launched by the Tree of Life Programme, such as the Darwin Tree of Life project, Bat1K aims to generate and openly publish high-quality reference genomes for all species within a defined section of life on Earth – in this case, everything in the order Chiroptera, to which all bats belong.

As with Darwin Tree of Life and many other projects worldwide, Bat1K is affiliated to the Earth BioGenome Project, which aims to ultimately generate genomes for all eukaryotic species on the planet.

Bat1K: Sequencing the genomes of all bats

Image credit: BAT 1K

‘Bat1K’ – suggesting a thousand bat species globally –  is a slight underestimate. When the consortium was founded there were about 1,200 species of bats known to science. But new bat species are being discovered all the time and this number has since risen to over 1,400.

This reflects what a large group of mammals bats are, occupying habitats all over the world. It’s a huge task just to coordinate the ethical collection of the DNA required for whole genome sequencing. Bat1K has a global team of scientists including regional chairs who are often early-career researchers who are driving Bat1K all around the world. We work with a whole group of people, including regional chairs who are often early-career researchers, who are driving the Bat1K all around the world.

For my work with the Tree of Life team at Sanger, Bat1K is complementing other ambitious biodiversity genomics projects, in particular the Darwin Tree of Life project. The Darwin Tree of Life project has a geographical rather than taxonomic goal, with its aim to produce genomes of all eukaryotic species in Britain and Ireland. By combining Bat1K’s expertise in bat sampling and genomics with the world-leading genome production pipeline established to support the Tree of Life Programme at Sanger, we will be able to rapidly produce genomes for all 18 Chiroptera species on these islands, and many more further afield.

Science across the Irish Sea

Crann Bethadh – the Irish Tree of Life. Image credit: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

It is very important that Ireland is deeply involved in the Darwin Tree of Life project. While a solely UK-focused approach may yield many of the estimated 70,000 species targeted by the project, this is not enough if we wish to truly represent the genomic diversity on this Atlantic archipelago. After all, Crann Bethadh – the Irish Tree of Life – is one of the most recognisable symbols of our ancient Celtic heritage. Through my role as Associate Faculty at Sanger, I act as a point of contact for bringing scientists in both countries together, at a time when international collaboration is more important than ever.

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