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Wellcome Sanger Institute, Collaborators Launch Project to Sequence 66K Species

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) — The Wellcome Sanger Institute today announced that it has launched an effort to sequence the genetic codes of 66,000 different species in the UK.

The initiative — called the Darwin Tree of Life Project — represents the UK portion of the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP), which aims to sequence the genomes of all 1.5 million known animals, plants, protozoa, and fungi.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute said it will act as the UK genomics hub for the project, collaborating with the Natural History Museum in London, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Earlham Institute, Edinburgh Genomics, University of Edinburgh, EMBL-EBI, and others on sample collection, DNA sequencing, assembling and annotating genomes, and the storage of data in freely available public domain databases.

The institute noted that the Darwin Tree of Life Project is expected to take 10 years to complete and cost roughly £100 million ($129 million) over the first five years. It follows the recent sequencing of 25 UK species — including red and grey squirrels, the European robin, Fen raft spider, and blackberry — by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and its partners.

"Having the full genomes of all the organisms we share the planet with will change our ability to understand and care for them," University of Edinburgh investigator Mark Blaxter said in a statement. "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."

The Wellcome Sanger Institute said it will fund an initial Tree of Life research program, with further funding required for sample collection, sequencing machines, and data infrastructure. A Sanger spokesperson said that the exact figure for the initial funding was not available and that discussions with funders are ongoing.

The EBP is being funded by participating organizations, private foundations, governmental organizations, and crowd-funding sources. It is expected to cost $4.7 billion over 10 years.