Wytham Genome project

The Wytham Genome Project group formed in 2019 with the purpose of sequencing the full genome of each species at Wytham Woods, a key site for the Darwin Tree of Life programme. Already we have sampled several hundred species. We are focusing on species of ecological and evolutionary interest, such as insects which drive key ecosystem processes, in order to utilise Wytham Woods as an ‘ecological genomics observatory’. During the first 3-year phase of the project, reference genomes from these species will be used to begin to answer a diverse range of questions from gene evolution to ecology, whilst building capacity to sequence tens-of-thousands of genomes later in the programme.



All of the institutions that are partners in the Darwin Tree of Life project have closed their physical doors, with staff working from home. This necessarily means that essentially all sample collection activities have ceased, and that no samples already in hand will be submitted for sequencing in the near future.

Despite this halt to collection and data generation activity the Darwin Tree of Life project is still running. We will be carrying out a series of research, documentation and bioinformatic tasks throughout the period of physical closure. We intend to return to full activity as soon as it is safe to do so, with improved data systems, more accurate species lists, streamlined analytic pipelines and a redoubled enthusiasm for sequencing the biota of Britain and Ireland.


Forests and woodlands are the most biodiverse and complex terrestrial habitat in the UK. Home to thousands of iconic and specialist animals, plants and fungi, our ancient forests and woodlands are also deeply entwined with our cultural heritage. But our woodland fauna and flora are under threat due to land use change, invasive species, climate change and pathogen outbreaks. Understanding and predicting these changes, and mitigating some of them, will require an understanding of how each species responds to challenges at a cellular and molecular level. Reference genomes are fast becoming an essential toolkit in 21st century biology, capable of increasing our understanding in a wide range of fields such as developmental biology, physiology, ecology and behaviour. For example, we can ask which genes are switched on or off in response to an environmental challenge. This requires sequencing the RNA made by each gene and identifying these by comparing to the genome sequences. Investigations of genetic variation within a species, such as may be used to detect if populations have been fragmented or merged, also requires high quality reference genomes.

Liam Crowley (University of Oxford)

Peter Holland (University of Oxford)

Owen Lewis (University of Oxford)

Douglas Boyes

Will Hawkes

František Sládeček

Lauren Sumner-Rooney

Alistair McGregor