November 2, 2018, 5:54 PM GMT
Scientists launched a vast project on Thursday
to map the genetic code of all 1.5 million
known species of complex life on Earth, aiming
to complete the work within a decade.
They described the Earth BioGenome Project
(EBP) as "the next moonshot for biology" after
the Human Genome Project, a 13-year $3.9
billion Cdn endeavor to map human DNA which
was completed in 2003.
The EBP is expected to cost $6.2 billion and
"will ultimately create a new foundation for
biology to drive solutions for preserving
biodiversity and sustaining human societies,"
said Harris Lewin, a professor at the University
of California in the United States and chair of
the EBP.
"Having the roadmap, the blueprints ... 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 ... new
resources for researchers in agricultural and
medical fields," he told a briefing in London.
This plan will draw in major research efforts
from across the world, including a U.S.-led
project aiming to sequence the genetic code of
all 66,000 vertebrates, a Chinese project to
sequence 10,000 plant genomes, and the
Global Ant Genomes Alliance, which aims to
sequence around 200 ant genomes.
In Britain, genome sequences for red and grey
squirrels, the European robin, the Fen raft
spider and the blackberry will be added to the
vast database.
The volume of biological data that will be
gathered is expected to be on the "exascale" —
more than that accumulated by Twitter,
YouTube or the whole of astronomy.
Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters
Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters
Jim Smith, director of science at the Wellcome
Trust global health charity, said the project
would be "internationally inspirational" and —
like the Human Genome Project — had the
potential to transform research into health and
"From nature we shall gain insights into how to
develop new treatments for infectious diseases,
identify drugs to slow aging, generate new
approaches to feeding the world or create new
bio materials," he told the briefing.
0.2% sequenced so far
So far, fewer than 3,500 complex life species,
or only about 0.2 per cent, have had their
genomes sequenced. Fewer than 100 of those
have been done to "reference quality" level
useful for researchers to access and learn
Vincent Kessler/Reuters
Vincent Kessler/Reuters
The plan is for the EBP to add many thousands
more reference quality genome sequences,
which scientists say will revolutionize
understanding of biology and evolution, boost
conservation efforts and protect biodiversity.
Lewin said signs of rapid decreases in
biodiversity and increases in the number of
species becoming endangered or extinct
underlined the urgency of the project.
"We desperately need to catalog life on our
planet now," he said. "We will do this not
because it's easy, but because it is hard and
because it's important to do."



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