Scientists around the world are racing to record the genetic blueprints of every known species on the planet. The effort comes as the United Nations warns that around one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction over the next few decades.
“It’s absolutely urgent,” researcher Joanna Harley told CBS News correspondent Roxana Saberi. “It’s really important to protect species on this planet. They share with us and they move us forward and the more we erode the world the less there will be.”
Around 5,000 scientists from around the world are part of the Earth BioGenome project. Over the next decade, teams will digitize the DNA of all 1.8 million named single-celled plant, animal, fungal and eukaryotic species on the planet. By the end of 2022, scientists plan to sequence 3,000 genomes.
By sequencing the DNA of life on Earth, researchers aim to improve human well-being, protect biodiversity and better understand ecosystems.
“Everything is interconnected,” Mark Blaxter, who leads a group working on the Earth BioGenome project, told Saberi. “We need the services that these plants, animals and fungi provide us…so by understanding how they do it, we can help humans as well.”
So far, British researchers have recorded the genetic fingerprints of nearly 400 of the country’s 70,000 known species.
The long process begins with researchers like Harley helping to find species. Collected specimens are then sent for sorting before being shipped to sequencing labs. The data is then shared online.
“We’ll be able to look at a species and determine if it’s endangered or not, and we’ll know what to do to maintain it,” Blaxter said.
The scientists added that decoding DNA alone will not save endangered plants and animals, but it can be beneficial as more and more species are on the verge of extinction.