In a Massive Endeavor Researchers are Ongoing to Sequence the Genomes of All Complex Species

Last updated on January 20th, 2022 at 08:25 pm

There is a project called the Earth Biogenome Project that aims to sequence the genomes of all complex life on Earth in ten years -about 1.8 million species.

Today, two papers with a lot of people’s work were published about the project’s history, goals, and progress.
Once it’s done, it will change the way biological research is done for good.

A few “model species” will no longer be the only ones that researchers have to work with. They will be able to look through the DNA sequence database of any organism that has interesting traits.
There is a lot of new information that will help us understand how complex life came to be. It will also help us understand how biodiversity can be kept safe.

The goal of phase one is to sequence one genome from every taxonomic family on Earth, which is about 9,400 of them so that we can learn more about them.
In 2022, one-third of these species should be done.
In phase two, experts will sequence a representative from each of the 180,000 genera. Then they’ll finish all of the species, which will be phase three.

The Value of Weird Species

The goal of the Earth Biogenome Project is to sequence the genomes of all of the 1.8 million species of complex life that have been named.
As important as model organisms like mice, rock cress, fruit flies, and nematodes have been, it’s great to be able to study other species that work a little differently.

Many important biological concepts come from studying very small animals.
People like Gregor Mendel found genes in peas, and the rules that govern them were found in red bread mold.

DNA was found firstly in salmon sperm, and research on tardigrades helped us learn about some of the systems that keep it safe. The first chromosomes were discovered in mealworms, and there were also sex chromosomes in a beetle. Sex chromosome action and evolution have also been studied in fish and platypus.
Also, the end caps (telomeres) of the chromosomes were found in pond scum.

The goal is to answer biological questions and to protect biodiversity.

Comparing closely and distantly related species gives us a lot of power to figure out what genes do and how they are controlled.
Among other things, my University of Canberra colleagues and I found that Australian dragon lizards hold their sexuality by the chromosome near a sex gene, not by the DNA sequence.

Researchers also use species comparisons to trace genes and regulatory systems back to their evolutionary origins, which can show how genes have stayed the same for nearly a billion years.
People and fruit flies have the same genes that assemble their eyes and photoreceptors.
And the BRCA1 gene that is mutated in breast cancer is also important for plants and animals to repair DNA breaks that happen when they get sick.

As it turns out, the genomes of animals are also far more similar than thought at first.
For example, a group of people and I recently found that animal chromosomes are 684 million years old.

It will also be intriguing to look into the “dark matter” of the genome and find out how DNA sequences that don’t make proteins can still play a role in how the genome works and how it changes over time.

Another important objective of the Earth Biogenome Project is to study how genomics can be used to protect species.
This field uses DNA sequencing to find species that are in danger, which is about 28% of the world’s complex organisms. This helps us keep an eye on their genetic health and give advice on how to manage them.

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