Scientists in Cambridge and Norwich are taking part in an unprecedented project to map the genomes of all life on the British Isles.

The University of Cambridge, Wellcome Sanger Institute and Earlham Institute (EI) are among ten institutions across the UK to benefit from almost £10m in funding.

The research will examine 8,000 species and deliver "high-quality genomes" of 2000 species.

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It's hoped the information will help support future conservation efforts.

Scientists say the Darwin Tree of Life Project could also help develop new treatments for infectious diseases, identify drugs to slow ageing, generate new approaches to feeding the world or create new biomaterials.

"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."

Prof Mark Blaxter

From the small fraction of the Earth's species that have been sequenced, enormous advances have been made in knowledge and biomedicine.

A number of lifesaving drugs have been discovered from plants and are now being created in the lab - such as artemisinin for malaria and taxol for cancer.

"80% of medicines today are either coming directly from nature or are inspired by nature"

Neil Hall, Director of the Earlham Institute

The consortium of 10 research institutes, museums and associated organisations ultimately aims to sequence the genetic code of 60,000 species that live in the British Isles.