Earth BioGenome project launched

By Emma Leach

Photo credit: qimono - Pixabay

A global push by the scientific community to sequence the genomes of all 1.5 million known animal, plant, fungi, and protozoan species was launched in London on the 1st of November.

The Darwin Tree of Life Project is the UK branch of the initiative, which aims to sequences the genetic codes of 66,000 species in the UK. Organisations collaborating on this project include the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the Natural History Museum, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Earlier in the year the Wellcome Sanger Institute and collaborators released the genomes of 25 UK species, including floundering species such as the red squirrel, water vole, turtle dove and Northern February red stonefly.

Also involved in the project is Dr Marta Farre-Belmonte, a new staff member within the University of Kent Biosciences department. Her lab is currently aiming to work in conjunction with the Wildwood Trust to improve DNA extraction techniques for water voles, to enable the genomes of individual populations to be assessed so that conservation can be informed.

Currently fewer than 0.2% of species globally have had their genomes sequenced. The cost of the project is expected to be $5 billion. It is hoped that the benefits to the project will be threefold: to protect biodiversity, to better understand ecosystems and evolutionary histories, and finally to benefit human welfare. It is hoped that findings could help with the development of new drugs, biomaterials and ways to feed the world. The investment should be worth it.

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