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Department of Genetics


We are delighted to announce the Department of Genetics is participating in a major new research initiative funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and Wellcome. Led by Prof Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen, who will shortly join the Department as a Director of Research, and Prof Richard Durbin, the AEGIS (Ancient Environmental Genomics Initiative for Sustainability) project will harnesses environmental DNA to understand how we can transform future cropping systems and to develop resilient crops in the face of climate change. The project aims to extract and analyse ancient eDNA from sediment cores, offering a window into the Earth’s agrarian history and the response of ecosystems to changes over hundreds to millions of years.   



Professor Richard Durbin and others in the Department of Genetics have been awarded £5.5m as part of the large international Ancient Environmental Genomics Initiative for Sustainability (AEGIS) consortium, funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and Wellcome. 

“This ambitious project aims to use ancient environmental DNA (aeDNA) from sites across Europe and worldwide over tens of thousands of years to understand better the robustness of ecosystems to environmental change, informing development of agricultural systems that are more resilient in the face of climate change” says Professor Durbin.  “Recent advances in DNA technologies and computational analysis methods create the opportunity to use genomics to look at the living world in fundamentally new ways, both as it is now and in the past.  The Department of Genetics is at the centre of a group of world-leading partners around Cambridge contributing to AEGIS: NIAB in crop sciences, the Wellcome Sanger Institute for genome sequencing, and the EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute for data, who will all work alongside others with the project hub at the GeoGenetics Institute in Copenhagen.” 

“There is enormous potential for aeDNA research” says project lead Professor Eske Willerslev, [who will have a visiting position in the Department]. “Combining the computational genomics and genetics skills of partners in Cambridge with the ancient DNA expertise of Copenhagen will enable the AEGIS project to lead this field forwards, with a transformative impact on our understanding of past ecosystem change and its application to agricultural sustainability”.

“We are excited to see the department play a key role in AEGIS, which we see as pioneering a broader set of opportunities in the new field of environmental genetics and genomics” says Professor Steve Russell, Head of Department.