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Genome 10K wants to sequence the genes of endangered species

Luke Dormehl

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You’ve quite possibly heard of the Human Genome Project, the massive international science research project dedicated to sequencing the human DNA. A less well-known project called Genome 10K has a not-unrelated mission — but instead of mapping just the human genome, it’s dedicated to sequencing the genome of thousands of animal species, including those most at risk of extinction.

“The purpose of the Genome 10K project is to assemble a genomic zoo of DNA sequences representing the full diversity of vertebrate animals, including at least 10,000 different vertebrate species,” David Haussler, the Genome 10K trustee and scientific director at the University of California Santa Cruz Genomics Institute, told Digital Trends. “Establishing the genetic diversity of vertebrate species would create a priceless resource for the life sciences and worldwide conservation efforts. We have only just begun to understand our natural environment. Because virtually all the biology of an animal is encoded in its genome, the Genome 10K project will provide a great leap forward.”

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A genome, Haussler said, can help us calculate how endangered a particular species is by the effects of population size reductions that lead to inbreeding. This information is vital for prioritizing conservation efforts and helping plan efforts to conserve, and, via outbreeding, increase diversity within a species.

Members of the Genome 10K Community of Scientists gathered at its first meeting in April 2009 at the Seymour Center in Santa Cruz, California.

“The genomes of different vertebrates also tell us a great deal about ourselves: How we became human and what makes us uniquely human genetically,” Haussler continued. “By sequencing thousands of vertebrate genomes we will have an unprecedented evolutionary microscope for peering into our natural history, allowing us to understand our story over the last several hundred million years, and helping us better predict which genetic variations that are in our genomes today cause disease.”

Scientists involved with Genome 10K have developed new methodologies for genome sequencing and analysis. These have been proved on hundreds of cases, including many endangered species.

“Anyone can help assemble this genomic zoo by making a donation on our website,” Haussler said. “By donating now, you can help create a shared resource that will inform and guide our understanding of animal life for generations to come.”