The Darwin Tree of Life Project

Genetic Code of 66,000 UK species to be sequenced

A global effort has been officially launched to sequence all living organisms on Earth including animal, plant, protozoan and fungal species. The project, known as the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP), will generate the largest dataset of its kind from the 1.5 million species of eukaryotes worldwide. EBP will provide new insights into a range of scientific fields including; evolution, biodiversity conservation, agriculture and medicine. Eukaryotes, the branch of life composed of organisms with a nucleus within a membrane, lag far behind prokaryotes in terms of total numbers of genomes sequenced. The EBP will provide a major drive towards addressing this imbalance and help shape our understanding of multiple disciplines. 

The UK arm, known as the Darwin Tree of Life Project, will form part of the EBP in its effort to sequence 66,000 species. The project is part of a large-scale collaboration between the Sanger Institute, Natural History Museum in London, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Earlham Institute, Edinburgh Genomics, University of Edinburgh and EMBL-EBI. The collaborators will be involved in all aspects of the project from sample collection, sequencing, genome assembly and annotation through to data storage.  

Professor Mark Blaxter, of Edinburgh Genomics and the University of Edinburgh, remarked: “The launch of the Darwin Tree of Life project is the realisation of a longstanding dream. Having the full genomes of all the organisms we share the planet with will change our ability to understand and care for them. The UK environmental and evolutionary research community has for many years been leading the way in sequencing the DNA of diverse species, and this revolutionary project will transform the science we can do.”         

This year, a proof of concept pilot project has been carried out by the Sanger Institute and its collaborators to sequence 25 iconic UK species. The list, which includes the much-loved red squirrel, was sequenced using Pacific Biosciences long-read technology. The project will prove invaluable to help the team and their collaborators scale up and sequence the remaining 66,000 UK species via this revolutionary study.

Edinburgh Genomics is poised and ready to deliver to this global project. In the last year we have delivered data for the de novo assembly of over 30 animal, plant and fungal genomes, and are collaborating with researchers across the UK to win funding and deliver high quality assemblies for many more.