By: Dan Mead, the 25th Anniversary Sequencing Project Coordinator
Date: 16/02/2018

So far I’ve talked about Golden Eagle and Red Squirrel, also known by the moniker “charismatic megafauna” which a fantastic description of large cute/interesting things I first heard from Mark Blaxter.

So, I mentioned that some of the species are quite challenging to get but there are some that are also easy to sample (along with who provided them – thanks goes to them):

  • Himalayan Balsam – Lisa Outhwaite, found on the Genome Campus
  • Oxford Ragwort – Lisa Outhwaite, found on the Genome Campus
  • Summer Truffle – from Dr Paul Thomas, commercial source (the exact location is confidential though)
  • Common Starfish – from Prof Maurice Elphick, keeps a tank full for other ongoing work
  • King Scallop – Dr Susanne Williams, bought from a fishmongers!
  • Asian Hornet – Dr Seirian Sumner, already had a collection
  • Turtle Dove – Dr Jenny Dunn, had samples from previous work
  • Otter – Dr Frank Hailer, from routine health surveys
  • Roesel’s Bush-cricket – Dr Björn Beckmann, they’re quite abundant now so easy to find
  • Fen Raft Spider –  Dr Helen Smith, ditch maintenance means they ‘pop up’ at the time
  • Robin – Dr Jenny Dunn, had samples from previous work
  • Grey Squirrel – Kat Fingland, has samples from ongoing work

Although these were easy to get that doesn’t mean there aren’t some quite interesting anecdotes associated with the sample collection.

Summer Truffles

Summer truffles, for example, are pretty valuable (circa £400 per kilogram) so the reason we don’t have the exact location is to prevent rival hunters (?not sure you hunt for a truffle or forage?) from plundering the area.

King Scallop, Great Scallop, Coquilles Saint-Jacques

Also, imagine the confusion in the voice of the chap at the end of the phone when I ring up and ask the fishmonger if they have a GPS location for the source of their scallops. Then think what the guy must have been thinking when I try to explain why, hopefully he got it but I’m not so sure! This is why we need to reach out and explain science to the public more, there’s not a great deal of exposure to genomes/genetic research if it’s not human related.

Turns out they don’t know exactly where they came from anyway; the scallops hail from the Shetland Isles – might have to do some genotyping to find out!

Roesel’s Bush-Cricket

Crickets it turns out are quite the eaters and not wanting to limit their diet they are, like us, omnivorous. Unlike us, however, at least nowadays, they do practice cannibalism (not sure how you ‘practice’ mind you, maybe start with just a lick?!). It seems they can lose legs quite easily this way, one named Oscar had a run-in in their container with Hannibal and lost two legs, the third (Heather) just lost a single one prior to arrival.

Fen Raft Spider

Did you know you need a special license to collect Fen Raft spiders? This is because they’re red-listed like the Eagle but, thankfully for me, Helen has one. She has also raised many thousand spiderlings in her kitchen!

Check out her website (http://www.dolomedes.org.uk/) and if you fancy a challenge see how easy it is to spot (what is after all the largest UK spider) them in their habitat here.

Clearing a fen ditch - home to the Fen Raft Spider (one of the 25 Genomes we are sequencing)

Clearing a fen ditch – home to the Fen Raft Spider (one of the 25 Genomes we are sequencing)

Grey Squirrel

Grey Squirrels are regarded as a pest species. This means that it’s legal to hunt them without a special license, provided that you don’t cause any unnecessary suffering. We are NOT, however, doing this for the project as it’s not the most ethical thing when people are already collecting them for other research.

Also, did you know that you can buy squirrel pie? Not had it myself but could be tasty…

About the author:

Dan Mead is the 25th Anniversary Sequencing Project Coordinator, for the 25 Genomes Project for the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Cambridge.

More on the 25 Genomes Project:

25 Genomes Project web page 

Posted by sangerinstitute

From the Sanger Institute, a charitably funded genomic research organisation