A group of international scientists is trying to pull of something pretty ambitious — sequence the genomes of all complex life on Earth.
The initiative, which they're calling the Earth BioGenome Project, involves studying and cataloging the DNA of every documented eukaryotic species, meaning all plants, fungi, animals, and all other organisms whose cells have a nucleus surrounded by a membrane.
Earth BioGenome Project
It will be what the Human Genome Project was in the field of medicine, its aim is to save endangered species around the world. The global consortium of researchers plan to sequence the genomes of 1.5 million eukaryotes, an undertaking which they expect to take up to 10 years to accomplish and cost $4.7 billion.
It currently costs something around $1,000 to sequence the genome of an average-sized vertebrae, but this price may very well fall as the technology progresses.
The plan is outlined in detail in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Of that 1.5 million, only 0.2 percent have had their genomes sequenced.
"Increasing our understanding of Earth's biodiversity and responsibly stewarding its resources are among the most crucial scientific and social challenges of the new millennium," the abstract reads. "These challenges require fundamental new knowledge of the organization, evolution, functions, and interactions among millions of the planet's organisms."
Life On Earth
The project stands to redefine our understanding of life on Earth, the researchers claim, and carve inroads in other fields such as conservation, technology, genomics, and medicine, among others. It might also lead to the discovery of 10 to 15 million eukaryotes species still unknown, the bulk of which is believed to be single-celled organisms, insects, or tiny marine life.
A goal as ambitious as this one requires the help of many people. As such, the project will gather citizen scientists and students around the globe for help. Whatever data they gather will end up being available for free for other scientific uses.
"The Earth BioGenome Project will create a new foundation for biology, informing a broad range of major issues facing humanity, such as the impact of climate change on biodiversity, the conservation of endangered species and ecosystems, and the preservation and enhancement of ecosystem services," the project's website reads.
The scientists behind the project aim to foster global partnerships and strategies. BioGenome's organizational structure will consist of a "global network of communities," with each community following a set of protocols and standards. It has partnered with scientists from institutions such as the Global Genome Biodiversity Network, the Vertebrate Genomes Project, and many others.