International biologists have launched Earth BioGenome Project (EBP)– an ambitious project to read all the DNA in each of the world’s known animal, plant and fungal species over the next 10 years, sequencing 1.5m different genomes at an estimated cost of $4.7bn.
About the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP):
- The Earth BioGenome Project plans to record the genomes — the DNA blueprint of life — of 1.5 million species of animal, plant, protozoa and fungi within a decade.
- So far, 19 research institutions around the world have signed up to take part in the EBP and more plan to join.
- They expect to read the full DNA sequence of all the world’s eukaryotic species — organisms whose cells have a nucleus enclosed by membranes. These are animals, plants, fungi and protozoa, which encompass all of life except simple microbes (bacteria and archaea).
- Participating institutions aim to raise the required funds from governments, foundations and charities. The project’s first phase — producing a reference genome for each of the 9,000 taxonomic families of eukaryotic life — will require $600m, of which about one-third has already been provided.
- UK participants, led by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, will sequence the genetic codes of all 66,000 species known to inhabit Britain in a £100m national effort called the Darwin Tree of Life, as well as helping the broader international project.
The target of 1.5m genomes represents all eukaryotic species known and catalogued by science. Biologists say that many more remain undiscovered, with the real total estimated at 10m to 15m species. But they are disappearing fast as a result of human activity, in what scientists are calling Earth’s sixth great extinction; the fifth was the asteroid impact that wiped out dinosaurs 65m years ago.
The blueprints for all living species will be a tremendous resource for new discoveries, understanding the rules of life, how evolution works, new approaches for the conservation of rare and endangered species, and provide new resources for researchers in agricultural and medical fields.
So far, only 3,300 eukaryotic species have had their DNA fully sequenced, 0.2% of the target. With strong international co-ordination, adequate funding and continuing rapid technological progress, 1.5m genomes could be achieved by 2028.