• Reading Level 4
Science | Geography | Design & Technology

The scientists mapping all life on Earth

Could this save biodiversity? The Earth BioGenome Project uses DNA sequencing to identify threatened species, which includes about 28% of the world’s complex organisms. Life on Earth is weird. One fungus that grows on sloth fur can help cure cancer. Lizard spit treats diabetes. And scientists use horseshoe crab blood to check drugs are safe to use. These are the surprising uses of biological research. One project hopes to discover many more. The Earth BioGenome Project plans to decode the DNA of all 1.8 million known species on the planet. Researchers hope it will unlock more secrets for medicines, biofuels and better ways to protect the environment. The project aims to complete by 2030. It is a big task. Scientists completed the Human Genome Project in 13 years. They sequenced 3 billion protein letters and 20,000 genes. But new methods will make the new project cheaper and easier.  It will need to be. Botanist Johan Hermans calls the project a "race against time". Deforestation and climate change are wiping out life before scientists discover it. In the last 500 years, ecosystems have lost 14% of their biodiversity.  But scientists hope a library of genomes will reverse this trend and restore biodiversity. Not everyone is convinced botany and bug-collecting can solve a problem as big as the sixth mass extinction. More change is needed. But geneticist Jenny Graves says a genome library would help conservationists measure an ecosystem's "genetic health". They will be able to identify threatened species and advise on their management. And by discovering practical applications, genomics will give people a reason to protect their local biodiversity. But is this all just bananas? Many news articles, websites and memes repeat the claim that humans share 60% of their DNA with the yellow fruit. The researcher Natasha Glover traces this myth back to reporting on the Human Genome Project. The reality is we do share some genes with fruit (about 20%) – these are basic proteins.  Our common genetic makeup is why scientists can experiment on species like mice and fruit flies, before testing treatments on humans. But many say this makes the project all the more important. If we don't sequence everything, we may miss the next penicillin. And we will need to act fast to find everything. Within 100 years, half of all species could be gone. Could this save biodiversity? Tree of life Yes: It is not just big creatures that are in danger. Ecosystems are losing their insects, plants and microbial life. Research into these unsung heroes is essential to preserve life on Earth. No: "Species die. Get over it," thinks biologist R Alexander Pyron. It is just part of evolution. Saving biodiversity is a waste of time. Or... Geneticist Jack Scanlan says genomics is "raw data", countless strings of letters. It is not enough on its own. We will need hard work across society to make it useful.    KeywordsDiabetes - A medical condition causing there to be too much sugar in the blood.

Continue Reading

The Day is an independent, online, subscription-based news publication for schools, focusing on the big global issues beneath the headlines. Our dedicated newsroom writes news, features, polls, quizzes, translations… activities to bring the wider world into the classroom. Through the news we help children and teachers develop the thinking, speaking and writing skills to build a better world. Our stories are a proven cross-curricular resource published at five different reading levels for ages 5 to 19. The Day has a loyal and growing membership in over 70 countries and its effectiveness is supported by case studies and teacher endorsements.

Start your free trial Already have an account? Log in / register