Genetic Barcodes as Species Identifiers

What if there were a way to tell whether that egg on an orange arriving from a distant port is actually a pest? Or whether that sea bass on your dinner plate is actually an endangered species?

David Schindel, Executive Secretary for the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) project, gave many examples today of why it is important to be able to “properly identify species in a socio-economic-political world.”

Using a short gene sequence of mitochondrial DNA, the project’s barcode method reduces the data that would otherwise be needed to identify species to only the amount necessary.

Speaking at an SLA session on Mapping Biodiversity from Gene to Landscape, Schindel said, using the short DNA sequence is “the equivalent to using an ISBN number to identify the 350 million printed characters in the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary.”

Since only a small tissue sample is needed–not an entire specimen–the method is useful for identifying life forms literally from cradle to grave.

What was that bird that flew into the jet’s engine? Using traditional specimen identification methods, it would be difficult to tell. The bar code, he said, provides a “comprehensive picture of a species in all its life stages, and even its processed form.”

Others speaking today on the progress being made with biodiversity informatics were Gladys Cotter, Associate Chief Biologist for Information, USGS NBII, and Meredith Lane, Public Liaison Officer, Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

Dick Kaser
ITI, VP, Content

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