To kick off World Community Grid's 10th anniversary celebrations, we're launching Uncovering Genome Mysteries to compare hundreds of millions of genes from many organisms that have never been studied before, helping scientists unearth some of the hidden superpowers of the natural world.
From the realization that the Penicillium fungus kills germs, to the discovery of bacteria that eat oil spills and the identification of aspirin in the willow tree bark - a better understanding of the natural world has resulted in many improvements to human health, welfare, agriculture and industry.
Our understanding of life on earth has grown enormously since the advent of genetic research. But the vast majority of life on this planet remains unstudied or unknown, because it's microscopic, easy to overlook, and hard to study. Nevertheless, we know that tiny, diverse organisms are continually evolving in order to survive and thrive in the most extreme conditions. The study of these organisms can provide valuable insights on how to deal with some of the most pressing problems that human society faces, such as drug-resistant pathogens, pollution, and energy shortages.
Inexpensive, rapid DNA sequencing technologies have enabled scientists to decode the genes of many organisms that previously received little attention, or were entirely unknown to science. However, making sense of all that genomic information is an enormous task. The first step is to compare unstudied genes to others that are already better understood. Similarities between genes point to similarities in function, and by making a large number of these comparisons, scientists can begin to sort out what each organism is and what it can do.
In Uncovering Genome Mysteries, World Community Grid volunteers will run approximately 20 quadrillion comparisons to identify similarities between genes in a wide variety of organisms, including microorganisms found on seaweeds from Australian coastlines and in the Amazon River. This database of similarities will help researchers understand the diversity and capabilities that are hidden in the world all around us. For more on the project's aims and methods, see here.
Once published, these results should help scientists with the following goals:
- Discovering new protein functions and augmenting knowledge about biochemical processes in general
- Identifying how organisms interact with each other and the environment
- Documenting the current baseline microbial diversity, allowing a better understanding of how microorganisms change under environmental stresses, such as climate change
- Understanding and modeling complex microbial systems
In addition, a better understanding of these organisms will likely be useful in developing new medicines, harnessing new sources of renewable energy, improving nutrition, cleaning the environment, creating green industrial processes and many other advances.
The timing of this project launch is a perfect way to kick off celebrations of another important achievement - World Community Grid's 10th anniversary. There's much to celebrate and reflect upon from the past decade's work, but it's equally important to continue pushing forward and making new scientific discoveries. With your help - and the help of your colleagues and friends - we can continue to expand our global network of volunteers and achieve another 10 years of success. Here's to another decade of discovery!
To contribute to Uncovering Genome Mysteries, go to your My Projects page and make sure the box for this new project is checked.
Please visit the following pages to learn more: