The Encyclopedia of Life project will detail 1.8 million known plant and animal species in the format of an online archive. Each species will have its own page with descriptions, photographs, videos, and maps, compiled by experts.

It is hoped that the $100m USD (£50m GBP) archive will be complete in 10 years and that in addition to an educational tool, the archive will have value for conservation efforts.

The project will begin by harvesting information from existing databases, such as FishBase, which contains details of 29,900 extant fish species. Data input will begin with animals, then plants, fungi and microbes last. It is not clear when fossil species will be added.

Encyclopedia of Life began development January 2006 and is reminiscent of other ventures such as the Tree of Life, Catalogue of Life and Consortium for the Barcode of Life. The last was launched in 2005 and is attempting to identify all species through unique genetic markers (called ‘barcodes’) found in the mitochondria of cells. This project has so far identified more than 27,000 species.

Proponents claim the Encyclopedia of Life will be much more through and flexible in regards to structure compared to its predecessors and will include dynamic features such as live searches. Fast internet technology has meant that such a large-scale endeavor has only recently become possible.

It is unknown how many species currently live on our planet but estimate range form a modest 2 million to 100 million.