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Gotta Sequence 'Em All

The Earth BioGenome Project wants to sequence all eukaryotic life on Earth — about 1.5 million species — from the commonly known animals to the more obscure plants, NBC News reports. The plan began to gain traction at the BioGenomics2017 meeting.

Scouring these now-unknown genomes could not only enable researchers to learn more about species diversity, but also could uncover new foods, drugs, and materials, it adds. "The thrill of sequence information is that you don't know what you're going to find," the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Jo Handelsman, who is not involved in the project, tells NBC News. "I think probably the bigger payoffs will be things that we can't even anticipate."

The project leaders described their goals for the project — which they estimated would take 10 years and cost $4.7 billion — as well as its challenges, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April. The University of California, Davis' Harris Lewin and his colleagues wrote that they plan to roll the project out in three phases. In the first, they plan to develop reference assemblies for at least one representative species from each eukaryotic taxonomic family. In the next phases, they plan to collect more species for sequencing and analysis. They noted, though, that there would be challenges in sample collection as well as in computation and funding.

Lewin tells NBC News that support for the program has been generated worldwide. "The public imagination on this has been incredible," he says.