Can barcodes give taxonomy a new lease on life?
The simple commercial technology of barcoding could change the naming and classification of organisms forever.
The Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL), an international initiative drawing together major natural history museums, botanical gardens and universities, wants to 'tag' every organism on Earth. The initiative has a range of applications — from biodiversity research and enforcing food laws to protecting wildlife and even biodefence.
In this article in Science, Eliot Marshall reveals that monumental as the task appears, CBOL is optimistic about its chances of success. The price of reading the genetic barcodes is dropping. Moreover, the push has already begun. Plans to barcode 8,000 plant species in Costa Rica have just been announced.
The standard method for barcoding animals uses a specific 'fingerprint' based on a gene known as COI. It relies on the fact that in most animals, COI varies more between than within species.
However, a different method is needed for plants, and in amphibians the COI gene varies significantly among individuals within a species. Another obstacle is finding the money — research groups may eventually need to tap into government budgets to scale up their efforts.
Reference: Science 307, 1037
Read more about biodiversity in SciDev.Net's biodiversity dossier