"Filled up with other books"

The 1000 Genomes Project is for people. Now, is it time for 10,000 vertebrate genomes? Erika Check Hayden reports on the idea in Nature news:

The initiative, called Genome 10K, aims to tackle thousands of vertebrate species. Project members write this week in the Journal of Heredity that the effort will provide an unprecedented look at the genomic mechanisms for generating diversity in a group of animals with different lifestyles and adaptations.

I think this is an incredibly good idea. The basis of the comparative method is being able to contrast pairs of closely related taxa. That means if you want to test an idea about the evolution of human diet, you need to study diet contrasts between lots of other pairs of closely related primate and mammal taxa. If you want to do the comparative method on anything complicated, like correlations between diet and brain size, or genetic networks instead of single genes, you will need to study lots and lots of pairs of species.

Sometimes it’s just impossible to do any kind of test because there aren’t enough species. But the genomes of 10,000 vertebrates would let us test lots and lots of hypotheses – vastly increasing our ability to narrow down the testable and focusing field observations and further sampling on cases where the genetic data are favorable. I see the project enabling a tremendous increase in the effectiveness of applying field observations to comparative biology.

The problem: It’s a budget-buster:

The group is looking for funding for the main phase of the project, which could cost anywhere from US$10 million to $100 million, depending on the costs to process and sequence each sample. The team anticipates that sequencing costs will drop below $10,000 per genome within a few years, making it feasible to sequence the entire genomes of 10,000 vertebrates within this budget.

“This budget” there seems to be the full $100 million. Still, spread over five years, that’s only around 1/35 of the biological sciences budget for NSF. Which leads me to wonder, are there 34 other things going on at NSF that would generate as much interesting biology as this?

Oh, the title quote is from the end of the news story:

Indeed, [Stephen] O'Brien expects Genome 10K to be the first study in what he anticipates will be a larger shift toward using sequencing technology to study biodiversity. He compares it to the culture shift that accompanied the invention of the printing press, which was first used to print the Bible and then for broader purposes. "If the Human Genome Project is the Bible," he says, "then the [Genome 10K] is a library that gets filled up with other books."

References:

Hayden EC. 2009. 10,000 genomes to come. Nature 462:21. doi:10.1038/462021a