Ambitious project to map genomes of all life on British Isles funded by Wellcome

An unprecedented insight to the diverse range of species on the British Isles will be made possible by Wellcome funding to the Darwin Tree of Life Project

Ambitious project to map genomes of all life on British Isles funded by Wellcome


The £9.4m funding from Wellcome will support researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and nine other partner institutions involved in the Darwin Tree of Life project to launch the first phase of sequencing all the species on the British Isles. This will see the teams collect and barcode around 8000 key British species, and deliver high-quality genomes of 2000 species.

This work will act as a launchpad for a larger ambition to, ultimately, sequence all species on Earth. Exploring the genomes of these organisms will give an unprecedented insight into how life on Earth evolved and uncover new genes, proteins and metabolic pathways as well as new drugs for infectious and inherited diseases.

And at a time when many species are under threat from climate change and human development, these data will also help characterise, catalogue and support conservation of global biodiversity for future generations.

From the small fraction of the Earth’s species that have been sequenced, enormous advances have been made in knowledge and biomedicine. From plants, a number of lifesaving drugs have been discovered and are now being created in the lab – such as artemisinin for malaria and taxol for cancer.

The consortium of 10 research institutes, museums and associated organisations ultimately aims to sequence the genetic code of 60,000 species that live in the British Isles.

The nine other institutes partnering with the Sanger Institute in the Darwin Tree of Life project are the University of Cambridge, Earlham Institute (EI), University of Edinburgh, EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), The Marine Biological Association (Plymouth), Natural History Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and University of Oxford.

Working together the centres will identify and collect specimens, set up new pipelines and workflows to process large numbers of species through DNA preparation, sequencing, assembly, gene finding and annotation. New methods will be developed for high-throughput and high-quality assembly of genomes and their annotation, and data will be shared openly through existing data sharing archives and project specific portals.

These data will be of enormous value to the international scientific community, including those working in life-sciences, medicine, alternative energy and climate research. The data will also act as a global resource for public engagement experts, naturalists, citizen scientists, university students and schools.

“The Darwin Tree of Life Project will change biology forever, delivering new insights into the numerous animals, plants, fungi and protists that call the British Isles home. The impact of this work will be equivalent to the effect the Human Genome Project has had on human health over the last 25 years.”

Professor Mark Blaxter, Lead of the Tree of Life Programme at the Wellcome Sanger Institute 

“The mission to sequence all life on the British Isles is ambitious, but by bringing together this diverse group of organisations with expertise in sample collection, DNA sequencing and data processing we believe that we have the right team to achieve this. We’ll gain new insights into nature that will help develop new treatments for infectious diseases, identify drugs to slow ageing, generate new approaches to feeding the world or create new bio materials.”

Michael Dunn, Head of genetics and molecular sciences at Wellcome

Notes to Editors

The Darwin Tree of Life project is a member of, and will contribute to the aims of the Earth BioGenome Project:

Selected Websites
The quest to sequence all life25 GenomesThe quest to sequence all life
What will reading the genomes of all life on earth uncover? And how does the Sanger Institute intend to lead the sequencing of an estimated 60,000 species in the UK? Associate Director of the Wellc…

Darwin Tree of Life: focusing on fungi and probing plants25 GenomesDarwin Tree of Life: focusing on fungi and probing plants
We have much to thank fungi and plants for, and the Darwin Tree of Life project will help us to unlock even more of their secrets to improve modern life

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