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  1. ITV Report

Ambitious project to sequence all 'complex' life on Earth begins today

The Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge Photo:

The Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge has committed to sequencing the genomes of all 66,000 UK species and will act as a hub for the UK's contributions toward the ambitious project.

Every known animal, plant, fungus and protozoa (single-celled organism) in the UK will have its DNA decoded and recorded - amounting to 66,000 species.

Other institutions and universities that are participating in the attempt are the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Gardens, the Museums of London and Edinburgh University - and all will be coordinated from Cambridge.

It is hoped that the information gathered will be able to be used successfully to save endangered species.

But researchers say the information will also be likely to form the basis of new drugs, fuels and even food.

Across the globe, the genomes of more than 1.5 million species will be recorded.

The UKs effort, known as the Darwin Tree of Life Project, officially launched today in London and is estimated to cost approximately £100 million over the first five years.

The data centre at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

“Globally, more than half of the vertebrate population has been lost in the past 40 years, and 23,000 species face the threat of extinction in the near future.

"Using the biological insights we will get from the genomes of all eukaryotic species, we can look to our responsibilities as custodians of life on this planet, tending life on Earth in a more informed manner using those genomes, at a time when nature is under considerable pressure, not least from us.”

– Professor Sir Mike Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute
A researcher in the lab at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

“When the Human Genome Project began 25 years ago, we could not imagine how the DNA sequence produced back then would transform research into human health and disease today.

"From nature we shall gain insights into how to develop new treatments for infectious diseases, identify drugs to slow ageing, generate new approaches to feeding the world or create new bio materials.”

– Sir Jim Smith, Director of Science at Wellcome