Darwin Tree of Life Project

Darwin Tree of Life Project

Darwin Tree of Life Project

The Darwin Tree of Life Project, led by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, plans to read the genomes of all known species of animals, plants, fungi and protists in the British Isles

About the Partnership

The Earth is experiencing the "sixth great extinction", an event that threatens the biodiversity upon which human society depends. As part of global initiatives to use genomics to reveal and understand biodiversity, and thus contribute to conservation and mitigation of the effects of catastrophic change, genome sequencing the Sanger Institute has initiated its Tree of Life programme.

Darwin Tree of Life logo

The Tree of Life programme at the Sanger Institute is collaborating with the Natural History Museum London, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, The Marine Biological Association, The Earlham Institute, The University of Oxford and its Wytham Woods field station, The University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Genomics, The University of Cambridge, EMBL-EBI and others to sequence to high qualty the genomes of all eukaryotic species in the British Isles.

Together we will collect and identify samples, extract and sequence DNA and RNA, and assemble and annotate the genomes of the aproximately 60,000 species with which we share these islands. We will make the data openly available for reuse in biological research, conservation, biotechnology and beyond.

The project is currently funded through the Sanger Institute core programme budget, and a recent major Wellcome Trust Discretionary Award to the DToL partnership. In planning for over two years, the first 30-month Phase I of Darwin project will start in earnest in November 2019.

COVID-19 update

SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19CDC, Alissa Ecker/MS and Dan Higgins/MAMS
SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated public health measures, all Institutional partners in the Darwin Tree of Life project have closed their physical doors, with staff working from home. But the Darwn Tree of Life project is still running.

While sample collections and sequencing have ceased for the moment, the project is carrying out a series of research, documentation and bioinformatic tasks to allow us to return to full activity when it is safe to do so, with improved data systems, more accurate species lists and streamlined analytic pipelines.

The list of projects we are currently working on include:
  • The species inventory for Britain and Ireland: working on the checklists and delivering a much improved overview of the diversity of our environment.
  • Defining the full list of “first” target species (aiming to identify one species and one backup species to be sequenced to generate the reference genome for each taxonomic Family).
  • Developing specific standard operating procedures for each of the major taxa.
  • Optimising the collection, handling and display of sample metadata for all of the different groups of organisms we will be collecting.
  • Improving our assembly algorithms and developing bioinformatic analysis pipelines for long read and long range data.
  • Delivering high quality assemblies for all species for which we currently have sufficient data
  • Releasing our first annotated genomes on Ensembl and, once these are ready, a landing page for the Darwin Tree of Life at https://projects.ensembl.org

For all of these projects we welcome and encourage both cross-partner collaboration, and also collaboration with colleagues in the wider community who would like to take part. Please contact contact@darwintreeoflife.org if you would like to be involved.


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