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Biotechnology and health

A worldwide conservation effort aims to sequence the genomes of 1.5 million organisms

April 23, 2018

Akin to what the Human Genome Project was for medicine, an international group of researchers is launching a massive DNA collection effort called the Earth BioGenome Project to help save endangered species around the world.  

The plan: The researchers behind the project want to sequence the genomes of 1.5 million eukaryotes, which include animals, plants, fungi, and microscopic organisms called protists. (There are an estimated 10 to 15 million of these complex species on Earth.) They expect it to take 10 years and cost $4.7 billion. The plan is detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The data gap: As of October 2017, the National Center for Biotechnology Information database contained only 2,534 unique eukaryotic species with sequenced genomes, which represent less than 0.2 percent of the known eukaryotes on the planet.

The goal: Scientists hope to use the genomic data for initiatives like developing new breeding programs to help bring back populations of endangered animals and finding ways to protect crops against the effects of climate change.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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