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In April 24th, PNAS published the details of the Earth BioGenome Project. This marks the beginning of the largest and most ambitious life science project in history. The project costs $4 billion 700 million, and over the next ten years, the genome sequence of all 1 million 500 thousand known eukaryotes has been detected and found for us to find new species that have not yet been found.

In 1990, the last global genome sequencing project, the human genome project, was officially launched. With the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Chinese scientists, by the end of the project in 2003, we have successfully solved the human genetic code and map the human genome for the first time. The project not only makes our understanding of human beings leap forward a big step forward, greatly promotes the development of medicine, but also has an important impact on the fields of biological engineering, agriculture, environment, energy and so on. Although the budget of the project is up to $3 billion, the economic benefits of the sequencing of the human genome to the United States are nearly $1 trillion, according to a 2013 report by the Battelle Memorial Research Institute, a us think tank. The human genome project is considered to be the most successful large-scale bioengineering project to date.
The success of the human genome project has given biologists greater ambitions. The sequencing of the human genome makes us more aware of the human body, and we need to understand the biosphere that we depend on and is essential for the sequencing of the genome of more species. In 2015, at a conference held in Washington, Washington, 23 scientists first proposed a plan to complete the genome sequencing of all the known eukaryotic species on earth within ten years. The main bodies involved in the program include the Smithson Institute in the United States, the Sanger Institute of the UK Foundation, the St Paul research foundation in Brazil, and China’s Chinese gene.

The human genome project solves the human genetic code for us.

The evolutionary and ecologist of the University of California at Davis, Harris Lewin, chairman of the project and the chief author of the latest paper, said: “the earth’s biological genome project will lay a solid scientific foundation for the new biological economy, and it will be a person around the world, especially in the developing countries with rich biodiversity). The health, environmental, economic and social problems faced by the group provide a new solution. ”

From 2534 to 1 million 500 thousand

Although the history of biology has existed for hundreds of years, the advent of natural history was earlier in ancient Greece and Rome, but human understanding of living things was just the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that there are 10 million ~1500 species of eukaryotes and billions of bacteria and archaea on earth, and we find only 2 million 300 thousand species. The species that have been sequenced are more scarce: up to now, only less than 15000 species are known to us, most of them are microbes, and only 2534 of the eukaryotes have been sequenced, less than 0.2% of the total number of known eukaryotes.

In known eukaryotes (green), the number of sequenced species (outer ring lines) is far less than the sequenced species of bacteria (blue) and palaeobacteria (purple).

Prior to this, several research projects to solve the biological genome code have been launched, including the 10K program for sequencing ten thousand vertebrate genomes of different genera, the i5K program to crack the genome of the 5000 arthropod species, the B10K plan to detect all 10500 species of birds, and the dominance of the giant gene. The 10KP plan for sequencing ten thousand plants. The orderly progress of the project provides favorable conditions for the earth’s biological genome project, and the latter will also cooperate with these projects and even provide financial support for them.
According to the paper, the main body of the earth’s biological genome project will be divided into three stages: first, in about 9000 eukaryotes, each selected one species for precise and detailed genome sequencing, thus becoming the reference data equivalent to the human reference genome and even more detailed than the human; the second step is to 1. 50 thousand ~20 million eukaryotes are sequenced, and the sequencing will be less detailed than the first step; finally, the team will test the genome sequence of 1 million 500 thousand known eukaryotes. In addition, the project also seeks to find some unknown eukaryotes, including single celled organisms, insects and small organisms in the ocean.
According to the estimate of project participants, the expenditure for the earth genome project is US $4 billion 700 million, while the human genome project cost about US $3 billion. Thanks to the improvement of gene sequencing technology, taking into account the change in purchasing power, the actual cost of the project is even lower than that of the human genome project. All data obtained from the project will be used free of charge by scientists.

of far-reaching significance

If we can proceed smoothly, the meaning of the earth genome project will be omnidirectional. This project has a direct impact on the survival of mankind in the future. In the middle of twenty-first Century, the global population is expected to break through 10 billion people, which is expected to achieve a revolution in the fields of biosynthetic fuel, biomaterials and food sources to alleviate the pressure of future survival. Drug research and development for infectious diseases and genetic diseases will also benefit from this project.
Besides human beings, the earth biological genome project is also important for the earth’s ecology. Under the influence of climate warming and human production activities, the rate of global biological extinction has reached 100 to 1000 times the natural background. The article wrote that during the period of 1970 ~2012, the number of vertebrate populations worldwide decreased by 58%. Some people believe that the sixth biological extinction has arrived. One of the main initiators of the project, Gene Robinson at the University of Illinois in the United States, said the project has an important role in the protection of endangered species and the entire ecosystem: “the earth’s biological genome project will further reveal the diversity and evolution of organisms, and thus help us understand how to protect them. ”

Participation of the whole people

High quality sample sources are the first step to measure genomic data of these 1 million 500 thousand species. Including the garden of animals and plants, the aquarium and the Museum of natural history, the institutions that preserve a large number of living organisms or specimens have become the focus of researchers. For example, the famous Smithson Institute of America includes 19 museums and 9 research institutes, covering only 300 thousand species of plant specimens. Researchers here are applying modern genomic detection methods to a large collection of specimens.
However, since not all museum specimens are preserved enough to produce high quality genomic data, researchers still need to find more species in the field, which is the most difficult and most expensive part of the whole project. Therefore, setting the standard of genome sequencing data and recording the source information of the tested objects will be an indispensable step for the project. Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist at the Rockefeller University, warns, “we can spend a lot of money and energy on all species on the earth, but eventually we get a lump of waste.”
In the search for research samples, the public can play an important role in addition to professional scientists. The earth biologic genome project has proposed the action of “citizen scientists”, so that ordinary people can participate in the sample collection in the field. The action referred to the CALeDNA project of the California University of genome protection, which also promoted the development of new technologies, such as the portable gene sequencing instrument, and the unmanned aerial vehicles that were able to identify samples in the field and take the samples back to the laboratory.
More than 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period, a great explosion of life opened the curtain of a colorful life world. Now, another revolution about life is about to begin. The most ambitious biological research project in history will enable us to understand all life from an unprecedented perspective.

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