Major DNA mapping project
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.