Scientists from the Comparative Genomics Laboratory of IMCB, led by Prof. Byrappa Venkatesh, are participating in an international effort to create a collection of tissues and DNA samples for 10,000 vertebrate species and unravel their genome sequences. The project, called the "Genome 10K Project", was conceived by David Haussler, University of California, Santa Cruz; Stephen J. O’Brien, National Cancer Institute, NIH, and Oliver A. Ryder, San Diego Zoo, USA, and launched in April 2009. Prof. Venkatesh is a chairperson of the fish committee. The impetus for this landmark project came from the fact that in the last decade the cost of genome sequencing has dropped by four orders of magnitude and is expected to drop by another order of magnitude within a year, making it possible to generate whole-genome sequences on a large scale. A major obstacle in planning genome projects for ‘non-model’ organisms is the availability of good quality DNA. Having recognized this bottleneck, the Genome 10K community comprising about 70 members has already scoured the zoos, museums, research institutes and universities around the world and identified DNA samples for 16,203 vertebrate species comprising mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes. Of these, 10,000 species will be selected for genome sequencing. Considering that fishes constitute nearly 50% of living vertebrates, Prof. Venkatesh’s committee has identified and proposed sequencing genomes of 4,000 fish species including lobe-finned fishes, ray-finned fishes, sharks, rays, and hagfish.
Vertebrates, comprising over 50,000 living species, are the most successful and diverse group of animals. They originated about 600 million years ago and diversified rapidly to adapt and occupy every habitat on earth including water, land and air. The availability of genome sequences of 10,000 vertebrates, about one per genus, will facilitate comparative studies on an unprecedented scale and usher in a new era of biological investigation. It will allow scientists to embark on a truly comprehensive study of vertebrate evolution enabling reconstruction of the evolutionary history of human and other vertebrate genomes. The genome sequences serve as a valuable resource for understanding the genetic basis of adaptive changes and predicting how animals respond to climate change, pollution, emerging diseases, and competition, leading to the formulation of comprehensive conservation plans of especially threatened and endangered species.
Excited by this opportunity for obtaining genome sequences of all his ‘favorite’ vertebrate genomes, Prof. Venkatesh said “just like the human genome sequence has changed the course of biomedical field, the Genome 10K project will influence every aspect of investigation of vertebrate biology”.
The Genome 10K community of scientists who met at the Seymour Center, Long Marine Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz in April 2009 to finalize the plan for the Genome 10K project.
The outlines of the Genome 10K project proposal are published online in the Journal of Heredity.