It has been a generation since the first reference genomes were made available: the bacteria Haemophilus influenza in 1995, brewer’s yeast in 1996, the model plant Arabidopsis in 2000, and human in 2001. In recent years the cost of sequencing has dropped dramatically, enabling large-scale projects such as the assembly of 1500 strains of Kiitake rice. Including bacteria, about 15,000 species have been sequenced. Now, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, the Earth BioGenome Project has announced an ambitious ten-year plan to sequence the remainder of the 1,500,000 species known to exist on the planet. The project is part of WEF’s Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth Initiative.
UC Davis Professor Harris Lewin, a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology and The Genome Center, is the Chairman of the EBP working group. As a proof of concept, Lewin and colleagues have already begun the Amazon Bank of Codes, which aims to catalogue the immense diversity of the Amazon basin in a way that preserves the ecosystem and enriches its inhabitants.
‘The partnership will construct a global biology infrastructure project to sequence life on the planet to enable solutions for preserving the Earth’s biodiversity, managing ecosystems, spawning bio-based industries and sustaining human societies.’
Deciphering the mechanisms of synthesis on a large scale could revolutionize the field of drug discovery, and policies are being put in place to return profits from newly discovered molecules to the indigenous communities who in some cases have nurtured them for millenia.
This project takes on added significance when global warming projections and the likelihood of mass extinctions are considered. Cataloguing the genetic diversity of earth will almost certainly demand large-scale reform of phylogenetic relationships, which will in turn inform conservation priorities as new zones of species richness are identified.