Spider experts from the University of Nottingham’s SpiderLab and the British Arachnological Society are celebrating after the species they submitted to a national public science competition to have its genome mapped was picked as a winner.
The relatively rare and internationally threatened Fen Raft spider will have its whole genome sequenced as part of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s ‘25 Genome Project’. The five favourite species voted for by the public will now be added to the 20 already selected. The Sanger Institute and its partners will now comprehensively sequence the 25 species from the UK as part of a global plan to sequence all life on Earth.
The Fen Raft spider (Dolomedes plantarius) lives by freshwater and is one of the UK’s rarest native species. Adult spiders can grow to a length of 7cm, including their legs, and they are typically brown or black, with yellow or white stripes along the sides of their body. They are capable of hunting and hiding underwater on stems of plants.
SpiderLab scientist Dr Sara Goodacre from the University’s School of Life Sciences said: “We are thrilled that the public vote has gone to our champion arachnid, the Fen Raft spider. It’s a very worthy winner not only because of conservation concerns but also because it produces useful compounds such as venom and silk that we think we may be able to copy and use in medicine and engineering. The Fen Raft’s genome will reveal information that could be crucial to our research in these areas.”
Ella Deutsch, PhD Student in the School of Life Sciences said: "We are so excited to have been part of this project and to have fostered an appreciation for our eight-legged friends, and especially this charismatic, endangered British spider. Hopefully the complete genome of this species will aid efforts towards their conservation as well as wider arachnological research."
SpiderLab’s submission to the Sanger Institute’s 25 Genome Project website provoked huge interest from the public, especially from schools and colleges who were able to ask questions directly to the scientists and interact with Sanger’s I’m a Scientist Get Me Out Of Here website.
Sadly, one of the University of Nottingham’s famous left-spiralling garden snails was pipped to the post in the Iconic Species category by the Lesser-Spotted catshark. Dr Angus Davison said: “This has been a fun competition and a fine chance to engage with the public on many different aspects of science. Although we are disappointed that the snail was not selected, it is great to hear that our Spiderlab neighbours won. With rapidly advancing DNA sequencing technologies, we hope that it will not be long before the garden snail genome joins the spider – in the meantime we will continue trying to work out what it is that makes very rare left-coiling snails like Jeremy.”
More information on the ArachNotts ‘SpiderLab’, its resident spiders and scientists, is available at www.arachnotts.com
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