Biologists propose to sequence the DNA of all life on Earth | Science

Can biologists sequence the genomes of all the plants and the animals in the world, including this greater bird of paradise in Indonesia?

TIM LAMAN/National Geographic Creative

WASHINGTON, D.C.—When it comes to genome sequencing, visionaries like to throw around big numbers: There’s the UK Biobank, for example, which promises to decipher the genomes of 500,000 individuals, or Iceland’s effort to study the genomes of its entire human population. Yesterday, at a meeting here organized by the Smithsonian Initiative on Biodiversity Genomics and the Shenzhen, China–based sequencing powerhouse BGI, a small group of researchers upped the ante even more, announcing their intent to, eventually, sequence “all life on Earth.”

Their plan, which does not yet have funding dedicated to it specifically but could cost at least several billions of dollars, has been dubbed the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP). Harris Lewin, an evolutionary genomicist at the University of California, Davis, who is part of the group that came up with this vision 2 years ago, says the EBP would take a first step toward its audacious goal by focusing on eukaryotes—the group of organisms that includes all plants, animals, and single-celled organisms such as amoebas.

That strategy, and the EBP’s overall concept, found a receptive…

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