Earth BioGenome Project aims to Sequence Genomes of 1.5 million Species


An international consortium of scientists is proposing a hugely ambitious project to sequence the genomes of all known complex life on Earth.

A working group that includes 24 interdisciplinary scientists who has outlined the reasons for why the initiative is known as the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP); why it should go ahead and how it will be achieved, all these things are described and published the paper in a journal called Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors of the proposal compare it to the Human Genome Projectan international scientific research project whose goal was the complete mapping and understanding of all the genes of human beings.

This mega-project will sequence, catalog and analyze the genomes of all known eukaryotic species on the Earth, which will approximately take 10 years to complete, costing $4.7 billion and requires more than 200 petabytes of digital storage capacity. Eukaryotes include all organisms except bacteria and archaea. There are an estimated 10-15 million different eukaryotic species on Earth. This initiative would require the cooperation of governments, scientists, citizen scientists and students from around the globe. 

So far, scientists have sequenced fewer than 15,000 species, most of them microbes. However, the genome sequencing costs has fallen to about $1,000 for an average-sized vertebrate genome and is expected go down in the future. New technologies, such as terrestrial and underwater robots, and an increase in citizen-scientist initiatives and consortiums of scientists focusing on specific groups of organisms are speeding the process of data collection and analysis.

The Earth BioGenome Project will support and promote international protocols for data sharing and storage. A coordinating council with members from Africa, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union and the United States will head a global network of collaborators. The council will also include representatives from different current large-scale genomics projects including the Global Genome Biodiversity Network, the Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance, the i5K Initiative to Sequence 5,000 Arthropod Genomes and the Genome 10K Project.

Entomology Professor, Gene Robinson (director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois) a leader of the proposed effort said, “Genomics has helped scientists develop new medicines and new sources of renewable energy, feed a growing population, protect the environment and support human survival and well-being”, “The Earth BioGenome Project will give us insight into the history and diversity of life and help us better understand how to conserve it.”