Genetic information is contained within a long stringy chemical called DNA which was discovered by Nobel Prize winners Watson and Crick who used x-rays to uncover the shape of how two strands of DNA were wound together as a double helix. Four different chemicals called adenine, guanosine, thymidine, and cytosine are like four letters of the DNA alphabet and the order in which these are lined up determines all 21 amino acids that go into the structure of the thousands of proteins in our cells.These protein provide structural support as in muscle cells and carry out metabolism for the cells in thousands of chemical reactions which would be impossible in a test tube but are carried out by the proteins binding and then bringing chemicals together that make life possible.
Genetic diseases and types of cancer as well as many individual traits can be determined by studying the genes of an individual. Sequencing genes is the process of identifying the order in which four chemicals denoted as A, G, T, and C are found in DNA which is in the nucleus of cells in plants and animals. Bacteria do not have a nucleus but do have DNA that identifies each species and strain of bacteria.The human genomes of four individuals were sequenced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the early 2000’s in a project directed by Dr. Francis Collins, the current Director of the NIH and separately by Dr. Craig Venter in a privately funded effort. Today sequencing a human genome costs about $100 and the cost is dropping quickly. Some day the meaning of the sequence will help to design drugs, diets, and personal health practices for individuals leading to a new age of health care.
The Earth Biogenome Project seeks to sequence the genes of all plants, animals, and bacteria on Earth. As a first step, they plan to sequence genes of one member of each family of species to create reference genomes comparable to the reference human genome. There are about 9000 such families. Next would come sequencing to a lesser degree a species from each of the 150,000 to 200,000 such families. Finally, the project would seek to sequence 1.5 million known species that have cells. The project is expected to cost more than four billion dollars and initial funding is coming from a Chinese company.