Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Global Genome Initiative?

The Global Genome Initiative — a component of the Smithsonian Institute for Biodiversity Genomics — is a collaborative science-based endeavor to collect the Earth's genomic biodiversity, preserve it in the world's biorepositories and make it available to researchers everywhere. The Global Genome Initiative aims to capture half of the world's genomic diversity within the next five years.

What is a genome?

A genome is an organism's complete set of DNA. Each organism's genome contains all the information needed to build and maintain an organism. In essence, a genome is the blueprint of an organism.

Why should we capture the world's genomes now?

Climate change and other human and natural threats to the environment make the Global Genome Initiative particularly urgent. Mitigation of these impacts requires more precise scientific results, more data and new tools. Today's scientists have an opportunity and a responsibility to generate and analyze big data in order to preserve and study genomic diversity.

Genomes are now key to basic scientific research and offer potential solutions to many pressing human challenges. The scientific community understands genomics at a level unimagined a decade ago and sequencing is the new core technology that advances evolutionary theory and ecological inquiry. 

It is now possible through genomic sequencing to generate, analyze and share highly complex information quickly and economically on an increasingly industrial scale. However, commensurate technologies to obtain genomic samples in the field, curate collections and make them accessible to the research community lag behind and severely limit new knowledge. We believe a global effort is urgent.

How will the Global Genome Initiative benefit the world?

Genome-level information will reveal the evolutionary relationships among all living things. The data collected will enable scientists to predict traits and properties of unknown or poorly known organisms, such as potential invasive species, unknown pathogens or sources of beneficial biotechnology and bioengineering. It also will allow them to foresee ecological and environmental trends.

Genomic science will revolutionize the fields of taxonomy, phylogeny, evolutionary biology, ecological research and monitoring, environmental change and health, conservation and wildlife management, invasive species management, agriculture, drug development, zoonotic disease forecasting, and aspects of national security and commerce.

How does the Global Genome Initiative define its goal of capturing “half of the world's genomic diversity”?

To achieve its goal of capturing half of the world's genomic diversity, the Global Genome Initiative aims to have samples representing all the living families and half of the living genera (about 160,000-200,000 genera are known) from the tree of life in globally networked biorepositories within five years.

What is the tree of life?

The tree of life refers to the universal genealogy or ancestry through which all species are related through evolution; it shows how genetic information is passed from evolutionary ancestors to living species today. For example, the tree of life shows that chimpanzees are the closest living relative to humans and shared a common ancestor millions of years ago. Species are at the very tips of the tree of life, and scientists generally theorize that all of today's living species share a common ancestor at the base of the tree. The Global Genome Initiative aims to capture the major branches from the tree of life, known scientifically as families and genera, to create a representative palette of the diversity of genomes present in living organisms today.

What is Biodiversity?

Biological diversity – or biodiversity – is the term given to the variety of life on Earth. It is the variety within and between all species of plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems within which they live and interact.

Where will the genomic samples that are captured as part of the initiative be stored?

The genomic samples captured by Smithsonian scientists will be stored in the Smithsonian's biorepository located at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Md. and made available to scientists around the globe through the Global Genome Biodiversity Network's data portal. Beyond the Smithsonian, the Global Genome Initiative and the Global Genome Biodiversity Network have and will continue to develop global partnerships and collaborations to sample genomes that are missing from the world's biorepositories and make them available to scientists throughout the world.

What is a Biorepository?

A biorepository is a publically accessible curated collection of biological material. Examples include museums, herbaria, botanical gardens, biobanks, seedbanks and zoos.

What is the Global Genome Biodiversity Network?

The Global Genome Biodiversity Network is a global consortium of peer organizations supporting the collection, maintenance and sharing of research-quality genomic specimens across the globe. It seeks to bring together the world's leading collections of genome-quality samples of tissue and DNA representing Earth's biodiversity to help accelerate and optimize research agendas everywhere.

The Global Genome Initiative led the development of and hosts the secretariat of the Global Genome Biodiversity Network — a consortium of the world's major biorepositories and genomic research collections. It now has over 40 collaborating member institutions. The Global Genome Biodiversity Network will serve to accelerate and optimize research everywhere. Its goal is to achieve one federated database of the world's genomic resources—tissues and DNA—accessible to all stakeholders.

As of June 2014, the Global Genome Biodiversity Network took the final steps to become fully operationalized as an independent organization and is led by a steering committee of its members.

How close is the Global Genome Initiative to achieving its goal of capturing half of the world's genomic diversity?

Currently the Global Genome Initiative has genomic samples from more than 2,000 families and nearly 9,000 genera in the Smithsonian's biorepository and an additional 400 families and 5,700 genera have been contributed to the Global Genome Biodiversity Network.

How does the Global Genome Initiative plan to capture the remaining families and genera needed to achieve its goal?

The Global Genome Initiative and the Global Genome Biodiversity Network has inventoried the families and genera that are currently represented in world's biorepositories and will strategically collect samples over the next five years to fill gaps in genomic diversity.

To collect these targeted genomic samples, the Global Genome Initiative will drive collecting expeditions in three ways. First, the Global Genome Initiative will focus on collecting from Smithsonian field sites (53 forest plots in 23 countries and four marine stations) through coordinated expeditions. Second, the Global Genome Initiative will develop partnerships with zoos and botanical gardens to sample and sequence their living collections. Third, Global Genome Initiative will work to develop and expand professional relationships with other research organizations through the National Museum of Natural History's scientific network to develop expeditions around the world to achieve specific and strategic outcomes.