SCIENTISTS from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RGBE) are to join efforts to map the DNA of every species in the British Isles.

The initiative is part of a broader effort aimed at documenting the genetic make-up of all the world’s life.

Scientists aim to expand our understanding of the natural world, making new discoveries about fauna, fungi and more.

It is hoped that as many as 8000 species will be barcoded during the first phase of the £9.4 million Darwin Tree of Life (DToL) project, which also involves Edinburgh University.

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RGBE will share “world-leading expertise” on Scottish ferms, mosses, lichens and high-altitude flowering plants like the rare Scottish primrose and fragile twinflower.

The process relies on “high quality” samples, meaning specialist horticulturalists will be needed to give the lab team enough quality material to work on.

It is hoped that lessons learned from this work will make it easier to pin down the genetic codes of some lesser-studied tropical varieties.

Dr Michelle Hart, who leads the RGBE lab team, said: “To sequence whole genomes, it is crucial we obtain very high-quality DNA extractions from the organisms, in very long unbroken strands. This means rethinking many of our techniques.

“We will explore gentle methodologies for breaking through plant cell walls and extracting their DNA out without using harsh physical or chemical procedures.

“We will draw on the expertise of many colleagues who focus on different plant and fungal groups using a range of pioneering techniques.”

Her colleague Dr Alex Davey went on: “By fine-tuning our methodologies on the well-known flora and fauna of the British Isles we will be in an excellent position to sequence rapidly and accurately the genomes of the lesser-known species of the tropics.

“This is where the benefits will really be seen.

“From the small fraction of the Earth’s species whose genomes have already been sequenced, enormous advances have been made in knowledge and biomedicine. The DToL takes this to a whole new level.”