The scientific imagination has been stirred by a call for complete sequencing of the human genome (The Scientist, October 20, 1986, pp. 11-12). The prospect is attractive because it offers an Everest-like goal, the entrainment of new advances in high technology, and the promise of practical applications in medicine.
A close parallel exists in the mission envisioned by other biologists to describe and characterize the remainder of life on Earth. Where the genome project will search inwardly to map several billion base-pairs comprising 100,000 to 300,000 genes, the biodiversity project will explore outwardly to encompass the still largely unknown millions of species of animals, plants and microorganisms on which human existence depends.
A recent tabulation places the number of described species at about 1.6 million (a large majority of which are insects and plants). But the actual number believed to exist ranges from four million to more than...
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