A mission to sequence the genome of every known animal, plant, fungus and protozoan – a group of single-celled organisms – is underway. The Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) has been described as a “moonshot for biology”.
The main ambitions of the project are threefold:
Fundamental science: The genomes will be an inventory of knowledge about the biology of life on the planet. Drawing a parallel between the human genome project and the endeavour to have a the first human walk on the Moon, Prof [Harris] Lewin said that while the specific challenges in each were very different, they had one key thing in common: “An investment in basic science without knowing exactly where it would lead.”
Conservation: To protect endangered species from threats like climate change, scientists want to understand the genetic code that underlies their adaptations to their environment. Species of particular conservation interest, such as the golden eagle, have already been targeted for genome sequencing.
Human welfare: Pinpointing the code for “useful traits” could reveal, for example, medicinal properties embedded in an organism’s DNA or ways to protect vital crop species from drought and disease.
The price tag on an “inventory of life” is a projected US$4.7bn (£3.6bn), which, according to the project leaders, will come from charities and governments around the world. As of [November 1] 17 institutions have each committed to the common goal of completing the 1.5 million genomes.
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