Earlham Institute takes part in ambitious ‘Tree of Knowledge’ to map the genomes of all life in UK

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 ten 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, parasites, 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 ten 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, universities 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.”