The Earth Biogenome Project

In July this year, Koalas joined a special group of organisms in biology. We humans have been a part of this group since 2001 and the first member was the bacteria, Haemophilus influenzae.

Can you guess which group this is?

The Koala genome project uncovered a wealth of information about these animals. Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Humans, koalas and fruit flys are all organisms who’ve had their entire genome sequenced.

The Koala Genome Project revealed why they can eat eucalyptus leaves, which are toxic to many other mammals. The project also gave insights into their immune system, and these findings would be a guide for the conservation of koalas and developing treatments for the devastating diseases they are vulnerable to.

The Human Genome Project too, provided us with the tools to understand human genetics and diseases, paving the way for new treatment and preventions strategies. Through this effort, more than 1800 disease genes were discovered. The tools created through the human genomes project are still used to characterise other animal genomes.

What is the Earth Biogenome Project (EBP)?

Whole genome sequencing is now faster and cheaper than it has ever been before. For the first time in history, it’s possible to sequence genomes of all species, which basically is the aim of the Earth Biogenome Project.

This endeavour was described as ‘moonshot for biology that aims to sequence, catalog, and characterise the genomes of all of Earth’s eukaryotic biodiversity over a period of 10 years’, in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

 

A moonshot for biology

There are 10-15 million eukaryotic species on earth, which is all species on the tree of life except bacteria and archea. That’s animals, plants and fungi.  However, less than 0.2% of eukaryotes have had their genomes sequenced, so it’s the perfect time to attempt something like this.

This project, with the ultimate goal of producing a biological database of all currently known eukaryotic genomes, is estimated to cost $4.7billion USD and take more than 200 perabytes of  data storage capacity.

The Goals

The EBP has three main goals:

Understanding ecosystems 

Understand evolutionary relationships, discover new species and gain new knowledge on ecosystems.

Protecting biodiversity

Conservation, protection and regeneration of biodiversity.

Benefiting human welfare

Discover new medicinal resources, generate new biomaterials, improve agriculture, prevent infectious disease etc.

This project, which involves scientists and organisations from all over the world, will create a resource that can be used by future generations to come. Just as genome sequencing has benefited humans and koalas, now all organisms on earth will benefit from this ambitious but amazing (and incredibly cool) project!