NSP - The TerraGenome project

The TerraGenome project is an international consortium for soil genomics with the aim of establishing the full genetic fingerprint of all the bacteria in a reference soil (from Rothamstead, UK) (review by Vogel et al., 2009). The first aim of the project is to catalogue the genes in the soil and secondly to find their function and relationship with one another. The research was originally started up in 2008 by a group of French scientists working on the “Metasoil” project, coordinated at the Ampère laboratory, to run over three years with a budget of €2.2 million. The TerraGenome project will use the DNA isolated from the “Metasoil” project to analyse the millions of DNA sequences from the soil. The reference soil at Rothamsted was chosen as it has a known history of environmental conditions and applications applied to it for 150 years.

This scale of the project has never been attempted before. The technical challenge is huge and represents a similar challenge faced by the human genome project (HGP). Whereas the HGP dealt with a single organism, the TerraGenome project could be faced with 1000’s of individual species.

The project has only recently been made feasible with the development of very high throughput DNA sequencing ability which allows 600 million bases to be sequenced in 10 hours.  This technology has only come about by the problems and solutions encountered by the HGP.