The Human Genome Project, conducted from 1990 to 2003, was the largest and most expensive single project in the history of biology. It mapped the 20,000+ genes of the human genome from both a physical and functional standpoint, creating a wealth of scientific data and $1 trillion in economic returns.
In the years since that landmark achievement, genome sequencing costs have plummeted – at a rate even faster than Moore's Law – and whole genomes can today be sequenced accurately and within a matter of hours for under $1,000. The process is now so quick and convenient that it has even been done using a handheld device on the International Space Station. It has entered mainstream public use with companies such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA.
This week, scientists announced the most ambitious effort of its kind ever attempted, as the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) was launched. Whereas the earlier Human Genome Project was restricted to a single species – humans – the EBP will study 1.5 million forms of life. It will aim to sequence, catalogue and categorise the genomes of all of Earth's eukaryotic biodiversity over a period of ten years.
Currently, fewer than 3,500 – or about 0.2% – of all known eukaryotic species have had their genome sequenced, with less than 100 at reference quality. Sequencing all known eukaryotic genomes could revolutionise our understanding of biology and evolution, as well as bolstering efforts to conserve and restore the Earth's biodiversity.
There is also this video about The Earth BioGenome Project: