A global effort to map the genomes of all plants, animals, fungi and other microbial life on Earth is entering a new phase as it moves from pilot projects to full-scale production sequencing. This new phase of The Earth BioGenome, or EBP, project is marked by a collection of articles published this week (January 17) in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, outlining the project’s goals, achievements to date, and next steps. .
The special feature on EBP captures the essence and excitement of the largest-scale coordinated effort in the history of biology. From basic science to breakthrough applications in a wide range of pressing global issues, such as preventing biodiversity loss and adapting food crops to climate change, EBP’s progress in sequencing eukaryotic life is humble and inspiring. Reaching the ultimate goal of sequencing all eukaryotic life now seems within reach.”
Harris Lewin, chair of the EBP working group and professor emeritus of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis
Launched in November 2018, EBP’s goal is to provide a comprehensive catalog of DNA sequences from all 1.8 million named species of plants, animals and fungi as well as eukaryotes unicellular.
The Earth is expected to lose 50% of its biodiversity by the end of this century if no action is taken to curb climate change and protect the health of global ecosystems. Building a digital library of DNA sequences for all known eukaryotic life can help generate effective tools to prevent biodiversity loss and the spread of pathogens, monitor and protect ecosystems, and improve ecosystem services.
network of networks
The project operates as an international network of networks, coordinating many group-specific, regional and national efforts, such as the California Conservation Genome Project (USA), the Darwin Tree of Life Project (Britain and Ireland), the Vertebrate Genome Project and the 10,000 Bird Genome Project.
The administrative office for the project is located at the UC Davis Genome Center. The center also serves as the primary DNA sequencing center for the California Conservation Genomics Project, a UC-wide project led by UCLA Professor Bradley Shaffer that aims to help the state of California manage threatened and economically important species using genomic tools.
Objectives of phase 1
The first two years of EBP, 2018-20, represented the start-up phase. The objective of phase 1, until 2023, is to produce reference genomes representing approximately 9,400 taxonomic families. Affiliate projects have so far produced approximately 200 such reference genomes, with the sequencing, assembly and annotation of over 3,000 to be completed by the end of 2022, representing approximately one third of the phase 1 objective.
As of December 2021, the project had 5,000 scientists and technical staff at 44 member institutions in 22 countries on every continent except Antarctica. There are 49 affiliated projects covering most major taxonomic groups of eukaryotes, which have access to tens of thousands of high-quality samples from museum collections and field biologists. More recently, a group of African institutions in 22 countries has come online as the Africa BioGenome Project. BIOSCAN, which implements DNA barcoding technology to discover and identify species, and the Global Virome Project, an effort to discover new viruses that could pose pandemic threats, also joined as affiliates.
The main activities of the first three years included the development and evaluation of standards and strategies, the organization of regional, national and transnational projects and the creation of communities through regular meetings of working committees and an annual conference.
In addition to the International Scientific Committee, which develops project standards, EBP has also formed committees on ethics, legal and social issues, and justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. EBP’s proactive stance on understanding the ethical, legal and social issues surrounding the project will inform recommendations on access and benefit sharing, equity and inclusion in the biodiversity genomics community and in indigenous communities in the most biodiverse countries in the world.