You may have heard of the Human Genome Project, but an international group of researchers has recently announced plans to go one step further. The Earth BioGenome Project is a massive effort to sequence the DNA of every single one of the 1.5 million species on Earth – and it will officially be the largest genome sequencing project ever undertaken. Ultimately, scientists hope that it will help us understand and protect the plants, animals, and fungi that call our planet home.
Researchers announced their ambitious plans this week at the World Economic Forum, writing that “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. These challenges require fundamental new knowledge of the organization, evolution, functions, and interactions among millions of the planet’s organisms.”
So far, we’ve sequenced just 0.2 percent (about 2,500) of the eukaryotic species on Earth, so we have a long way to go to before reaching the 1.5 million known species – and that doesn’t even take into account the estimated 10 to 15 million undiscovered ones. The entire project is estimated to take about 10 years and $4.7 billion to complete. While that may sound like a ton of money, sequencing a genome is just a fraction of the cost that it used to be. In fact, today sequencing a new species costs just $30,000, compared to the $2.7 billion it cost to sequence the first human genome. Once completed, the data will be made available as part of the public domain.