Today (1 November 2018) a number of research organisations and funders announced the official launch of the Earth BioGenome Project – which aims to read the genomes of every species of animal, bird, fish, fungus, insect and plant on the planet. To help in this endeavour, the Wellcome Sanger Institute announced its intention to collaborate with a number of UK organisations to run the Darwin Tree of Life Project to sequence the DNA of all such life in the UK.
Below are 10 top facts that help to put the work into perspective…
1. Let’s run the numbers
There are currently around 1.5 million catalogued eukaryote species on earth – that’s the known animals, plants, protozoa and fungi. But for a true total, estimates vary from 10-15 million species,. There are an estimated 66,000 eukaryote species in the UK.
2. Ages of extinction – we’re up to 6…
The planet is in the sixth great age of extinction. The Living Planet Index reported a 60 per cent decline in vertebrate populations since 1970. By the year 2050, up to 50 per cent of all existing species may become extinct, mainly due to human activity.
3. It won’t be cheap, but it will cost less than the very first human genome
To sequence an average vertebrate-sized genome costs about US $1,000. To sequence the genomes of all 1.5 million known eukaryotes, plus up to 100,000 new eukaryotic species will cost US $4.7 billion. This is less than the cost of creating the first draft human genome sequence (US $5 billion in today’s money). The timescales are equally comparable – the first human genome took 13 years to sequence; scientists aim to sequence all eukaryotes on Earth in the next 10 years.
4. Beetle mania
There are 400,000 identified species of beetles (Coleoptera) in 30,000 genera across 176 families. This represents about 25 per cent of all classified eukaryotic life. There are a predicted 1.5 million beetle species inhabiting the planet.
There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of the distinguished British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, who found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, Haldane is said to have answered, “An inordinate fondness for beetles.”
5. There’s a long way to go…
There are fewer than 3,500 eukaryotic species with sequenced genomes. This represents less than 0.2 per cent of known eukaryotes.
6. Botanical gardens of the world unite
The collections of the botanical gardens of the world contain about a third of all species of plants, and more than 40 per cent of all endangered plant species.
7. It’ll take more than few usb sticks
Storage and distribution of reference genomes and analyses will likely require less than 10 gigabytes per species or about 20 petabytes in total, well within current capabilities. Storage of the underlying sequence read data for the completed Earth Biogenome Project is estimated to be approximately 200 petabytes. Total project information is likely to exceed an Exabyte of data.
8. DNA samples like it cold… very cold
For genome sequencing, ideally, DNA samples are frozen immediately upon collection. For long term storage, samples need to be kept at -80OC This isn’t always possible as resources may be limited at remote sites. Shipping samples over long distances can cause loss of DNA quality e.g. by thawing or leaking of preservation liquid. National networks of freezers, like the CryoArk BioBank will be used to store samples.
9. The world of fungi matters
Fungi form one of the largest eukaryotic kingdoms, with an estimated 2.3-3 million species. They form a diverse group with a wide variety of life cycles, including mutualism and parasitism. They have a broad and profound impact on the Earth’s ecosystem.
10. There are three domains of life on Earth
Life is categorised in to three domains:
A domain is further divided into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.
- News story: Genetic code of 66,000 UK species to be sequenced
- News story: Launch of global effort to read genetic code of all complex life on earth
 Brendan B. Larsen et al, “Inordinate Fondness Multiplied and Redistributed: the Number of Species on Earth and the New Pie of Life,” The Quarterly Review of Biology 92, no. 3 (September 2017): 229-265.
 Hinchliff CE, et al. (2015) Synthesis of phylogeny and taxonomy into a comprehensive tree of life. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112:12764–12769.
 Ceballos G, Ehrlich PR, Dirzo R (2017) Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114:E6089–E6096. AND International Union for Conservation of Nature (2017) IUCN 2016: International Union for Conservation of Nature annual report 2016 (International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland).
 1959 May-June, The American Naturalist, “Homage to Santa Rosalia or Why Are There So Many Kinds of Animals?” by G. E. Hutchinson, Page 146, Volume XCIII, Number 870. [Taken from – 1959 May-June, The American Naturalist, “Homage to Santa Rosalia or Why Are There So Many Kinds of Animals?” by G. E. Hutchinson, Page 146, Volume XCIII, Number 870 (via Wikipedia.)]
 One Petabyte is 10×15 bytes. One petabyte is equivalent to 13.3 years of HDTV content
 Mututalism is where two organisms of different species exist in a relationship in which each individual fitness benefits from the activity of the other.