Researchers have announced an audacious plan: To sequence the genome of every known species on the planet. The Earth BioGenome Project is certainly not lacking in ambition but will set its sights just a smidgeon lower to begin with, focusing first on all known eukaryotes, which includes animals, plants, fungi, and ameba, reports Science.
Revealed at the BioGenomics2017 conference last week, the project may seem unachievable considering there are 1.2 million species currently described and an estimated 7.5 million still awaiting discovery, but it has been welcomed by many in the field. From conservationists to geneticists, the idea of creating a catalog of all living creatures' DNA is an incredible prospect and could have far-reaching consequences.
The latest project has been likened to the Human Genome Project, which sought to decode the entire human genome in 15 years. At the time the project was announced, it was seen as hugely ambitious and it was difficult to get funding due to the perceived complexity and impossibility of the mission. But once it finally began in 1990, the project was so successful it was completed two years early, and opened up whole new aspects of science, from molecular medicine to human evolution.
The team behind the Earth Biogenome project expect that due to the groundbreaking advances in DNA sequencing and decoding that have occurred since the Human Genome Project, their initial plan will probably take roughly the same time and is expected to cost around the same amount, an estimated $4 billion. With the speed at which the cost to sequence entire genomes is dropping – it currently costs just $1,000 to sequence an entire human genome – it is not unfeasible to think that soon it may cost just a few hundred dollars a pop.
The initial plan would be to sequence one species from each of the 9,000 eukaryotic families, before refining it down to the 200,000 genera, and then 1.2 million species. It sounds unfeasible, but it is pointed out that there are many projects already in the pipeline that are looking at sequencing the genomes of certain groups. The Bird 10,000 Genomes Project, for example, it looking to sequence every single living bird species.
This means that the Earth BioGenome Project may have more of a role overseeing and managing these separate individual missions and allocating funding. On that matter, the money for the project is yet to be found, but with many different fields of study and institutions interested in such a grand scheme, the project could be more achievable than it may initially seem.