The hazel dormouse could have its genome sequence, if it wins the public vote © Sasha Fox Walters / iStock

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in 2018, the institute is planning to sequence the genomes of 25 UK species.

20 of the species have already been decided upon, but the Institute is asking for the remaining five species to be chosen by the public and school children.

“Twenty five years ago the field of genomics was a budding idea and its implications only dreamed of,” says Professor Sir Mike Stratton, director of the Sanger Institute.

A genome is the complete set of an organism’s DNA, and once unravelled, can provide important insights into a species, its lifecycle and evolution.

More than 40 species in five categories are vying for the public’s vote, with the winner of each category going on to be part of the 25 Genomes project.

The nominated species cover a wide range of taxonomic group and include hazel dormouse, Scottish wildcat, glow worm, barn owl, Danish scurvygrass and a species of tree lichen.

Professor Karim Vahed captive breeding Scaly Crickets (Pseudomogoplistes vicentae) in the laboratories at the University of Derby for release onto a shingle beach site on the Devon coast.

The scaly cricket is one of the species that the public can vote for © Alex Hyde

Professor Karim Vahed from the University of Derby is championing the scaly cricket, a rare species which lives on pebbly and stony beaches. In the UK, it is only known from four small populations, and is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Vahed explains that he wants to unravel the genetic code of the scaly cricket to test a theory, “It is possible that our populations of scaly crickets might not have colonised the UK when we were still joined to the continent at the end of the last ice age (like most other British insects), but might instead have “rafted” over much more recently from populations on the French coast.”

The 20 species already decided include red and grey squirrels, turtle dove, brown trout, ringlet butterfly and Turkey oak. Sequencing has already begun and is expected to be completed in June 2018.

Alongside the 25 Genomes project, the Institute will also be planting an anniversary garden which will include a special apple tree grown from Isaac Newton’s own apple seeds.


Megan ShersbyNaturalist, writer and content creator