The Ensembl project was started in 1999, some years before the draft human genome was completed. Even at that early stage it was clear that manual annotation of 3 billion base pairs of sequence would not be able to offer researchers timely access to the latest data. The goal of Ensembl was therefore to automatically annotate the genome, integrate this annotation with other available biological data and make all this publicly available via the web. Since the website's launch in July 2000, many more genomes have been added to Ensembl and the range of available data has also expanded to include comparative genomics, variation and regulatory data.
The number of people involved in the project has also steadily increased. Currently, the Ensembl group consists of between 40 and 50 people, divided in a number of teams. The Genebuild team creates the gene sets for the various species. The result of their work is stored in the core databases, which are taken care of by the Software team. This team also develops and maintains the BioMart data mining tool. The Compara, Variation and Regulation teams are responsible for the comparative and the variation and regulatory data, respectively. The Web team makes sure that all data are presented on the website in a clear and user-friendly way. Finally the Outreach team answers questions from users and gives workshops worldwide about the use of Ensembl. The Ensembl project is headed by Paul Flicek and receives input from an independent scientific advisory board.
Ensembl is a joint project between European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), an outstation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (WTSI). Both institutes are located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton, south of the city of Cambridge, United Kingdom.