Barcode of Life Initiative: DNA Barcoding

Barcode of Life InitiativeIt all started in 2003 when a group of scientists started the Barcode of Life Initiative (BOLI). They all had one goal in mind; to be able to tell species apart by using a short gene sequence from a standardized position in the genome. Ultimately, the segment of DNA that’s the same gene for every species would reliably distinguish one animal species from another. The scientists plan to implement a handheld barcode reader similar to a GPS device that will be able to read the segment of DNA from a tiny piece of the specimen’s tissue. The information collection would then be instantly relayed to a database of DNA barcodes which would provide the specimen’s name, photograph, and description. This would allow anyone to identify species or discover new ones at any time.

Once a handheld barcode reader is available to examine tissue samples and is connected with the database, scientists forsee endless possibilities. This new technology will provide scientists with a new way to identify organisms, but could also serve useful to the world at large. For example, public health officials could use the DNA barcoder to identify mosquitoes carrying infectious diseases such as West Nile, restaurant owners and consumers could check fish to be sure what they purchase is safe for consumption, farmers could identify pests invading their crops, museums could shed light on previously unclassified species, and regulatory agents could test animal feed for forbidden items likely to spread illnesses such as mad cow disease. With barcode technology and DNA, the possibilities are endless.

While all of these possibilities aren’t a reality as of yet, DNA barcoding has already helped scientists realize the magnitude and diversity of species on earth, in addition to speeding up the survey of biodiversity. DNA barcoding will be a rapid, relatively inexpensive first step in species discovery that will produce an integrated view of the past and present existence of life on earth.

If you’d like to learn more or get involved with the project, check out the Barcode of Life Initiative site.