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From Dusty Samples on Shelves to Cryogenically Frozen Ones

Researchers at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, are trying to capture much of the genetic diversity of life on Earth by storing embryos, seeds, and other samples in the museum's 6,500-square-foot biorepository and sequencing those samples, National Geographic magazine writes.

The Smithsonian already has 127 million objects in its collection, and it has space to store 4.2 million vials of frozen tissue. In addition, it will be collaborating with other institutions like the British Natural History Museum, the magazine notes.

Jonathan Coddington, the entomologist who is leading the effort, tells National Geographic that he would like to have about 200,000 genomes done within five years. That would correspond to about one genome per genus and, he notes, would "essentially preserve most of the diversity of the global genome."

"We're going to tackle the problem systematically," adds Kirk Johnson, the director of the museum. "At first, we're trying to get a rough draft. We won't do every ant, but we'll do all the families of ants and all the families of bees. It's like coloring in the tree of life. We'll start at the thicker branches and work our way out."