Researchers reboot ambitious effort to sequence all vertebrate genomes, but challenges loom

By Elizabeth Pennisi 

In a bid to garner more visibility and support, researchers eager to sequence the genomes of all vertebrates today officially launched the Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP), releasing 15 very high quality genomes of 14 species. But the group remains far short of raising the funds it will need to document the genomes of the estimated 66,000 vertebrates living on Earth.

The project, which has been underway for 3 years, is a revamp and renaming of an effort begun in 2009 called the Genome 10K Project (G10K), which aimed to decipher the genomes of 10,000 vertebrates. G10K produced about 100 genomes, but they were not very detailed, in part because of the cost of sequencing. Now, however, the cost of high-quality sequencing has dropped to less than $15,000 per billion DNA bases, putting detailed vertebrate genomes within the research community’s reach, says G10K co-founder David Haussler, a computational biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “What we thought was a ‘genome’ back then really wasn’t suitable for in-depth studies,” he explains. “I think we’ve reached a turning point.”

Error-free genomes from a broad sampling of vertebrates will enable researchers “to address questions not possible to [answer] before,” adds neuroscientist Erich Jarvis of The Rockefeller University in New York City, who leads G10K.

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