Ma­jor DNA map­ping project

The Witness - - FEATURES -

SCI­EN­TISTS launched a vast project last week to map the ge­netic code of all 1,5 mil­lion known species of com­plex life on Earth, aim­ing to com­plete the work within a decade.

They de­scribed the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) as “the next moon­shot for bi­ol­ogy” af­ter the Hu­man Genome Project — a 13-year $3 bil­lion (R42,5 bil­lion) en­deav­our to map hu­man DNA which was com­pleted in 2003.

The EBP is ex­pected to cost $4,7 bil­lion and “will ul­ti­mately cre­ate a new foun­da­tion for bi­ol­ogy to drive so­lu­tions for pre­serv­ing bio­di­ver­sity and sus­tain­ing hu­man so­ci­eties”, said Har­ris Lewin, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia and chair of the EBP.

“Hav­ing the roadmap, the blue­prints ... will be a tremen­dous re­source for new dis­cov­er­ies, un­der­stand­ing the rules of life, how evo­lu­tion works, new ap­proaches for the con­ser­va­tion of rare and en­dan­gered species, and ... new re­sources for re­searchers in agri­cul­tural and med­i­cal fields,” he said.

This plan will draw in ma­jor re­search ef­forts from across the world, in­clud­ing a U.S.-led project aim­ing to se­quence the ge­netic code of all 66 000 ver­te­brates, a Chi­nese project to se­quence 10 000 plant genomes, and the Global Ant Genomes Al­liance, which aims to se­quence around 200 ant genomes.

In Bri­tain, genome se­quences for red and grey squir­rels, the Euro­pean robin, the Fen raft spi­der and the black­berry will be added to the vast database.

The vol­ume of bi­o­log­i­cal data that will be gath­ered is ex­pected to be on the “ex­as­cale” — more than that ac­cu­mu­lated by Twit­ter, YouTube or the whole of as­tron­omy.

Jim Smith, direc­tor of science at the Well­come Trust global health char­ity, said the project would be “in­ter­na­tion­ally in­spi­ra­tional” and — like the Hu­man Genome Project — has the po­ten­tial to trans­form re­search into health and dis­ease.

“From na­ture we shall gain in­sights into how to de­velop new treat­ments for in­fec­tious dis­eases, iden­tify drugs to slow age­ing, gen­er­ate new ap­proaches to feed­ing the world or cre­ate new bio ma­te­ri­als,” he said. — Reuters.

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