Mapping DNA in all Norwegian species

Published: 17 April 2024

Text: Anne-Marie Korseberg Stokke

"The biological diversity of Earth is threatened. Understanding and preserving species will therefore be crucial for the survival and prosperity of humanity," says a professor at the University of Oslo. The Norwegian part of the global Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) is now gathering forces from all of academic Norway, as well as representatives from the business sector, to DNA sequence everything from ferns to bears.

"Knowledge of the total DNA of species, the genome, has many uses," says project leader at EBP-Nor and professor at the University of Oslo, Kjetill Sigurd Jakobsen.

He highlights three important areas of use:

"Through more knowledge of the DNA of species, we have the opportunity to create new medicines based on DNA information, we will be able to develop enzymes from microbes, fungi, and other organisms for new biotechnology or industrial processes, and most importantly: When biodiversity is threatened, we need knowledge about the species and their interactions. The genome contains all the information the species needs to survive, interact with its environment, and reproduce," says Jakobsen.

The historic initiative Earth BioGenome Project (EBP), likened to the moon landing and the Apollo program, represents the largest coordinated effort ever in the field of bioscience. The project aims to create a comprehensive database of DNA sequences from all of Earth's 1.5 million species within 10 years.

"Thanks to technological advancements in DNA sequencing, it is now possible to carry out this in a much more efficient way than before. The mapping of the human genome, completed in 2003, took 13 years and had a budget of approximately 3 billion dollars. Now, both the time and cost have been significantly reduced," says Jakobsen.

Project leader at EBP-Nor and professor at the University of Oslo, Kjetill Sigurd Jakobsen.

Norwegian collaboration across sectors

A Norwegian node for this project (EBP-Nor) has now been established and includes seven major Norwegian universities (UiO, NMBU, UiB, NTNU, Uni Nord, and UiT), the research institute SINTEF, as well as non-academic institutions REV Ocean, The Life Science Cluster, and ArcticZymes Technologies. Together with similar initiatives in, for example, the Nordic countries and the UK, they will sequence and catalog all eukaryotic species in Norway, estimated at 50-70,000 species.

According to Professor Jakobsen, the results of the project will have many practical implications for society, and he wants to invite the business sector in to ensure further funding for the work.

"Genome-based knowledge can be applied in biotechnology, bioprospecting, aquaculture, marine resource management, materials science, biofuels, discovery of new drugs, and medical treatment. Innovation that will benefit Norway as a nation."

One of the collaborating partners already in place is The Life Science Cluster, with approximately 120 member companies in health, technology, aquaculture, and agriculture.

"For our members, access to genome sequencing data could mean a revolution in research and development, open doors for innovation, and the opportunity to solve complex challenges in health, technology, and sustainable resource management," says CEO Hanne Mette Kristensen.

At the annual Norwegian Biodiversity and Genomics Conference, held this year at Oslo Science Park, workshops were held where participants could learn to use bioinformatic tools to efficiently analyze and interpret genome sequencing data. In addition, renowned researchers shared their work in biodiversity and genomics.

What is eukaryotic species ?

Eukaryotic species refer to organisms that belong to the domain Eukaryota. Eukaryotes are one of the three domains of life on Earth, the other two being bacteria (Bacteria) and archaea (Archaea). Eukaryotes are characterized by having cells with a well-defined cell nucleus containing DNA, as well as other organelles such as mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and Golgi apparatus.