Ensembl’s efforts towards a greener future

Ensembl is rapidly working towards annotating large collections of genomes based on the nodes of the Earth BioGenome Project. Our aim is to characterise the genome of new species to reinvigorate our understanding of biological diversity, strengthen conservation efforts, and benefit human welfare. Read more to find out how Ensembl will contribute to tackle the climate change challenges that face the world today.

People are now increasingly aware of the challenges of climate change that have fostered environmental disasters and loss of biodiversity. In honour of Earth Day April 22nd, we are excited to share some of Ensembl’s initiatives to fight against the challenges faced by humanity.

Ensembl has been working hard with large-scale biodiversity sequencing projects, such as the Vertebrate Genomes Project and the Darwin Tree of Life Project to generate many new genome assemblies to support biodiversity research. The enormous scale of these biodiversity initiatives led Ensembl to make significant changes to its annotation process resulting in the launch of Ensembl Rapid Release. Ensembl Rapid Release is a lightweight version of the Ensembl genome browser and it is updated every two weeks with new species and annotations to provide free access to the scientists who are keen to use this data in their research. The annotation of new genomes from across the eukaryotic Tree of Life can answer important scientific questions and may reveal secrets that can be used as a foundation for biological discoveries to benefit society. There is a critical need to protect and preserve both marine and terrestrial ecosystems around the world. Ensembl aims to provide the tools necessary to characterise genomic data that scientists can use to implement programs that may restrict the recessive lethal alleles, and increase disease resistance in endangered species. 

Photographed at Blickling Estate NT by David Grix.

At Ensembl, we are also trying to help the Earth at an individual level by making responsible ‘greener’ choices. Since March 2020, we have successfully delivered over 60 training courses in a virtual environment and received positive feedback from our trainees. The nature of the online course allows not only the trainer but also the students to avoid the need to travel therefore keeping our carbon footprint to a minimum. Although, virtual events cannot replace face to face teaching, this model of training can certainly prove more effective in the lower and middle income countries where the number of students may be higher than the available equipped classrooms. However, once the pandemic ends and normal life activities resume, the carbon-footprint issue remains in the long term. The Ensembl team will continue to make a conscious effort to reduce our travel related carbon footprint by grouping training courses together in one region. Ensembl will also continue to organise inclusive online courses and webinars to train researchers worldwide.

Staff survey for travel mode to and from work

We are located at the Wellcome Genome Campus which is certified to maintain environmental sustainability. The campus has an award winning Green Travel Plan which minimises the carbon footprint of the staff as they travel to and from work. In a recent poll to determine how Ensembl staff plans to travel to campus after the pandemic, we found that 68% of staff surveyed plans to use greener modes of transport to commute to work, with only 32% travelling via car. Environmental concerns are important to Ensembl and EMBL-EBI staff which has led to forming the GreenEBI Committee. The committee is responsible for providing solutions to reduce environmental impacts of EMBL-EBI operations and raise awareness of environmental issues among the staff and visitors. EMBL-EBI recognises its responsibility as a scientific institution to lead by example by not only implementing green projects across its sites, but also by promoting research to address environmental challenges.