Scientists race to digitize DNA of every known species on the planet

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 an estimated one million plant and animal species are at risk of becoming extinct within the coming decades.

"This is 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 keep us going and the more we erode away at the world, the less there will be."

Around 5,000 scientists across the globe are part of the Earth BioGenome Project. Over the next decade, teams will digitize DNA of the 1.8 million named plant, animal, fungi and single-celled eukaryote species on the planet. By the end of 2022, the scientists plan on sequencing 3,000 genomes.

Scientists around the world are working to digitize DNA of the 1.8 million named species on earth.   / Credit: The Tree of Life Programme

By DNA sequencing life on Earth, the researchers have goals of benefitting human welfare, protecting biodiversity and better understanding ecosystems.

"Everything's interconnected," Mark Blaxter, who leads a group working under the Earth BioGenome Project, told Saberi. "We need the services that these plants and animals and fungi give by understanding how they do it, we can help humans as well."

So far, researchers in Britain have recorded the genetic blueprints of nearly 400 of the country's 70,000 known species.

The lengthy process begins with researchers like Harley who help search for species. The collected specimens are then sent for sorting before they're shipped off to sequencing labs. The data is then shared online.

"We'll be able to look at a species and work out whether it's endangered or not, and we'll know what to do to keep it going," Blaxter said.

The scientists added that decoding DNA won't save endangered plants and animals alone, but that it can be beneficial as more species are on the track of extinction.

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