Just a few months after rolling out a huge package of studies on the genomics of 48 members of the bird family tree, an international consortium of scientists is announcing their new goal: sequencing all 10,000 species of birds in the next five years.

Erich Jarvis

Erich Jarvis is an associate professor of neurobiology in the medical school and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Called B10K for short, this effort should be the first attempt to sequence the genomes of all living species in a single class of vertebrates – and the most species-rich one at that.

The consortium announced their intentions in a letter appearing June 4 in Nature.

A genomic-level tree of life of the entire class should reveal links between genetic and phenotypic variation, perhaps reveal the evolution of biogeographical and biodiversity patterns across a wide-range of species, and maybe show the influences of ecology and human activity on species evolution.

But consortium co-leader, Erich Jarvis of Duke neurobiology, just loves birds for their minds. He is involved with the project to enhance his use of songbird brains as models of human speech.

Having proven the technical feasibility of the project and redrawn the bird phylogeny already, the consortium is now expanding to include experts in museum science, biogeography and ecology from the Kunming Institute of Zoology and Institute of Zoology of Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing; the Smithsonian Institution in the USA; and the Center of Macroecology, Evolution and Climate in Denmark. The complete list of contributing institutions and collaborators is listed on the B10K site.

B10K bird phylogeny

The new bird family tree drawn on complete genome sequencing of 48 species representing each major order. Painting by Jon Fjeldså.

“Given the small size and less complex features of bird genomes relative to other vertebrates, the ongoing advances in sequencing technologies, and the extensive availability of high quality tissue samples from birds deposited in museums around the world, reaching this ambitious goal is not only possible but also practical,” the consortium said in a prepared statement.

We look forward to many more exciting findings from B10K, but hopefully not all at once like last time.

-By Karl Leif Bates