October 4, 2018  |  Plant + animal biology

Sanger Institute Birthday Gift to Scientists: 25 New Wildlife Genomes to Support Conservation and Science

King scallops are more genetically diverse than we are? The Roesel’s bush cricket’s genome is four times the size of ours? These are just some of the findings made by scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute after undertaking a project to sequence the DNA of 25 wildlife species important to the United Kingdom.
Although many of the species they selected are native to the British Isles, the implications of the research are expected to extend around the globe. The project’s first data release, the Golden Eagle genome, for instance, will impact the study of eagles in North America and elsewhere, according to Sanger Institute associate director Julia Wilson.
Wilson announced the release of the remaining 24 genomes at a 25th anniversary celebration at the Institute’s Cambridgeshire campus today.
“We have learned much through this project already and this new knowledge is flowing into many areas of our large-scale science,” Wilson said. “Now that the genomes have been read, the pieces of each species puzzle need to be put back together during genome assembly before they are made available.”
Among other questions scientists will explore with the new high-quality genomes are why some brown trout migrate to the open ocean while others don’t, and why red squirrels are vulnerable to the squirrel pox virus, yet grey squirrels can carry and spread the virus without becoming ill.
The genomes—selected by scientists to include representatives of flourishing, floundering, dangerous, iconic and cryptic species, as well as five picked by the public during a nationwide vote—were decoded using SMRT Sequencing. They will now be annotated and analyzed.
“Sequencing these species for the first time didn’t come without challenges, but our scientists and staff repeatedly came up with innovative solutions to overcome them,” Wilson said.
These challenges, documented in a blog series by 25 Genomes Project coordinator Dan Mead, included everything from acquiring specimens to “exploding flatworm goop.”
“We are already discovering the surprising secrets these species hold in their genomes,” Mead said. “Similar to when the Human Genome Project first began, we don’t know where these findings could take us.”
Whereas the first human genome took 13 years and billions of dollars to complete, the Sanger Institute was able to newly sequence 25 species’ genomes in less than one year, at a fraction of the cost. The high-quality genomes will be made freely available to scientists to use in their research.
We are honored to have been part of the effort, and extend Happy Birthday wishes to our colleagues across the pond. We look forward to another 25 years of collaboration!

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