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Why a team of scientists has begun recording the DNA of all life on Earth

A small team of researchers have announced their intention to sequence the DNA of every species on Earth. Can’t be too difficult, right?

Named the Earth BioGenome Project, the daunting task will include all the planet’s eukaryotic species: plants, animals and fungi.

Scientists will need to map the genomes of over 1.5 million species living on Earth. The project commenced in early November and is expected to run for at least ten years.

The endeavour kicks off in the United Kingdom. Researchers from various institutions are coming together to help sequence the genomes of 66,000 species from the UK that are yet to be recorded. This leg of the project is called ‘The Darwin Tree of Life Project’.

With such a colossal task ahead, one has to wonder why they are doing this at all.

According to the BioGenome Project website, the research team believe in the value of sequencing life for the betterment of life in the future. They not only hope to “revolutionise our understanding of biology and evolution”, but also to “conserve, protect and restore biodiversity, and create new benefits for society and human welfare”.

Scientists hope that the data will lead to new discoveries about the aging process and the creation of bio-materials, as well as assist in the creation of new medicine. The complex and multi-faceted goals of the project are outlined in the paper, Earth BioGenome Project: Sequencing life for the future of life.

The initial UK leg of the project will be led by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, a non-for-profit genetic research lab, in tandem with the National History Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens and several other notable institutions.

In a press release, Tim Littlewood, head of Life Sciences at the Natural History Museum, said:

“It is hoped that together we can uncover the blueprints of the diversity of UK life, which will effectively re-write what we know about these species.

“Sequencing the genomes of all life will reveal aspects of evolution we’ve not even dreamt of.”

In the coming months, more countries will begin the process already underway in the UK.

Feature image: Trevor Cole

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