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Earth BioGenome Project to Sequence All Complex Life on Earth Officially Launches
Publish Date: 2018-11-02

On November 1, 2018, the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP), a global effort to sequence the genetic code, or genomes, of all 1.5 million known animal, plant, protozoan and fungal species on Earth, was officially launched in London, UK. Scientific partners and funders from all over the world gathered to discuss the progress of the organization and funding of the project. Dr. Xun Xu, President of BGI Research and Executive Director of China National GeneBank (CNGB), and Dr. Xin Liu, Deputy Director of BGI Research attended the event.

The Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) is arguably the most ambitious project in the history of life sciences after the Human Genome Project. The project was launched in February 2017 at the Biogenomics conference by 17 scientific institutions, including BGI, Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the University of California, Davis, and in April 2018 PANS Journal published a complete planning white paper on the project, which was officially launched in the UK on November 1, 2018.

The members of the Earth BioGenome Genome Project (EBP) included Prof. Huanming Yang, Chairman of BGI Group; Dr.  Xun Xu, President of BGI Research; Prof. Guojie Zhang, Associate Director of China National Gene Bank; and Dr. Xin Liu, Executive Director of BGI Research. As one of the initiators of the project, BGI has always paid attention to biodiversity research, BGI has decoded many earth species through genetic technology and initiated international cooperation in in-depth scientific research.

A better understanding of Earth's biodiversity and effective management of the Earth's resources are among the most important scientific and social challenges of the new millennium. To overcome these challenges, a new scientific understanding of the evolution and interaction among millions of organisms on Earth is needed. At present, fewer than 3,500 (about 0.2% of all known eukaryotic species) have been genome sequenced, with less than 100 high-quality reference genomes. Sequencing all known eukaryotic genomes, thousands at reference quality will revolutionize our understanding of biology and evolution, help protect and restore biodiversity, and in return create new benefits for society and human welfare. 

The Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) is a global collaborative effort to sequence all known genomes of animals, plants, protozoans and fungal species on Earth, and will ultimately create a new foundation for preserving biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of human society. The goal of EBP is to sequence, catalogue, and categorize the genomes of all eukaryotes on Earth over a period of ten years. The estimated cost of EBP is $4.7 billion, and the amount of biological data collected and generated from it is expected to be in trillions of megabytes, surpassing the data accumulated by Twitter, YouTube, or astronomy.

"The Earth BioGenome Project can be regarded as the infrastructure of new biology," said Harris Lewin, a professor at the University of California, Davis, United States and Chair of the EBP Working Group. With the road map, the blueprint for all living species of eukaryotes will become a tremendous resource to understand the rules of life, the principles of evolution, and conservation of rare and endangered species, and provide enormous new resources for researchers in agriculture and medical field fields.

BGI has played an important role in the EBP project, by leading the sequencing of 10,000 plant genomes, at the same time, BGI has led the genome project of 10,000 bird species and has now completed the genome sequencing of more than 300 bird species. In addition, BGI has also led the Global Ant Genome Alliance, which aims to sequence around 200 ant genomes.

"The aim of the 10,000 Plant Genomes Project (10KP) is to sequence more than 10,000 genomes representing major plant branches on Earth," said Liu Xin, Deputy Director of the BGI Research. The project will generate large-scale plant genome data over the next five years to address basic issues related to plant evolution. The Earth BioGenome Genome Project provides a framework within which global collaboration can be effectively carried out so that our projects can be implemented.

BGI has launched the 10,000 Plant Genomes Project during the 19th International Botanical Congress in July 2017 and has received participation of dozens of research institutions from more than ten countries. More than 1500 genome samples have been collected from countries all over the world, and more than 1,000 plant genome assessments have been completed.

EBP is another large international scientific cooperation project after BGI's participation in other major international scientific programs, such as the Human Genome Project (HGP) and 1000 Genomes Project (1KGP), 10,000 Plant Genomes Project (10KP) and Bird 10,000 Genomes Project (B10K).

EBP has made extraordinary progress in the last year before the official launch. EBP has served as an organizational binder for existing large-scale genomic projects and their partnering institutions on eukaryotic species around the globe. Toward this end, 17 institutions around the world, including China, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Australia, and Brazil, had signed a Memorandum of Understanding, that commits each institution to work together to achieve the common objectives of the project. As the project progresses, more partner institutions, organizations, and communities are expected to join.