Wellcome hands Earlham Institute key role in £9.4m genomics epic
Earlham Institute (EI) in Norwich has been awarded over £700k from the Wellcome Trust for the Darwin Tree of Life Project, which aims to produce a complete genomic UK biota as part of the wider Earth Biogenome Project (EBP).
The remarkable study will understand all living species to preserve our planet’s rich biodiversity and discover new biomaterials for pharmaceuticals.
Our wealth of biodiversity on Earth is little understood and under threat, where society relies on ecosystems provided by the natural world.
Estimated to take seven to 10 years, the Darwin Tree of Life genomics pipeline of 60,000 British species will answer crucial biological questions and fuel new opportunities.
This project will generate an invaluable open-source catalogue of data for research into how organisms develop and respond to pathogens, environmental change and species’ interactions.
Revealing the evolutionary underpinnings of the human genome, our food sources and parasites to unearth processes that generate genomic diversity. An unparalleled insight into the diverse range of species in the UK will be made possible by £9.4m Wellcome Trust funding to the Darwin Tree of Life Project. This will support the 10 UK Institutions, including EI, involved in the project to launch the first phase of sequencing of all the species on the British Isles - collecting and barcoding around 8,000 key British species, and deliver high-quality genomes of 2,000 species.
This data will be of enormous importance 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.
Prof Neil Hall, director of EI, said: “Here at EI, through the availability of novel sequencing, and analytical technologies and our advanced expertise, we can study the British species which represent nearly all phyla and more than a third of the families of organisms on Earth.
“EI’s focus will be on the diversity of single celled organisms. These microbes known as ‘protists’ are hugely diverse and play important roles in the environment such as carbon and nitrogen cycling.
“As the British terrestrial biota has been reconstructed since the last glacial maximum, it is a model for how organisms respond to climate change, competition, range expansion and anthropogenic challenges. Just as the sequencing of the human genome has transformed biomedical research, Darwin Tree of Life and EBP will transform broader bioscience for the next century, leveraging unprecedented economy of scale and fruitful collaboration to deliver reference genomes for all species.”
Professor Mark Blaxter, lead of the Darwin Tree of Life Programme at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, added: “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.”
Michael Dunn, head of genetics and molecular sciences at Wellcome, conceded that the mission to sequence all life on the British Isles was ambitious but said the potential impact would be transformational.
He said: “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.”