The Barcode Blog

A mostly scientific blog about short DNA sequences for species identification and discovery. I encourage your commentary. -- Mark Stoeckle

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Undiscovered species lurking in museum drawers

Drs. Dalebout and Baker, University of AucklandFour whales stranded on the coast of California in the 1970s were identified as Hector’s beaked whale Mesoplodon hectori (Mead 1981 J Mammalogy 62:430). 20 years later mitochondrial DNA analysis revealed these 4 specimens, and a fifth stranded in 1997, to be a new species, designated Perrin’s beaked whale Mesoplodon perrini  (Dalebout et al 2002 Marine Mammal Sci 18:577). The presence of a new species was first recognized by researchers compiling a database of mitochondrial DNA to assist in species identification. The formal species description includes diagnostic molecular characters, helping integrate DNA sequence data with classical taxonomy. As emphasized by Rob DeSalle and others, there is a need to interweave phylogeny and classical taxonomy, which can be met by including DNA sequences routinely used for evolutionary analysis as diagnostic characters in species descriptions (DeSalle et al. 2005 Phil Trans Royal Soc B 360:1905). 

I find it remarkable that a species as large as a whale can languish unrecognized in a collection. How many new species lurk in museum drawers awaiting discovery?  A comprehensive DNA barcode survey of a tissue collection could be relatively inexpensive, as DNA isolation from tissues is generally simple and and sequencing costs are approaching a $1 a specimen. If whales can hide in museums for 20 years, there must be a multitude of new species already collected that will be uncovered by DNA analysis.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 12th, 2006 at 11:42 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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About this site

This web site is an outgrowth of the Taxonomy, DNA, and Barcode of Life meeting held at Banbury Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, September 9-12, 2003. It is designed and managed by Mark Stoeckle, Perrin Meyer, and Jason Yung at the Program for the Human Environment (PHE) at The Rockefeller University.

About the Program for the Human Environment

The involvement of the Program for the Human Environment in DNA barcoding dates to Jesse Ausubel's attendance in February 2002 at a conference in Nova Scotia organized by the Canadian Center for Marine Biodiversity. At the conference, Paul Hebert presented for the first time his concept of large-scale DNA barcoding for species identification. Impressed by the potential for this technology to address difficult challenges in the Census of Marine Life, Jesse agreed with Paul on encouraging a conference to explore the contribution taxonomy and DNA could make to the Census as well as other large-scale terrestrial efforts. In his capacity as a Program Director of the Sloan Foundation, Jesse turned to the Banbury Conference Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, whose leader Jan Witkowski prepared a strong proposal to explore both the scientific reliability of barcoding and the processes that might bring it to broad application. Concurrently, PHE researcher Mark Stoeckle began to work with the Hebert lab on analytic studies of barcoding in birds. Our involvement in barcoding now takes 3 forms: assisting the organizational development of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life and the Barcode of Life Initiative; contributing to the scientific development of the field, especially by studies in birds, and contributing to public understanding of the science and technology of barcoding and its applications through improved visualization techniques and preparation of brochures and other broadly accessible means, including this website. While the Sloan Foundation continues to support CBOL through a grant to the Smithsonian Institution, it does not provide financial support for barcoding research itself or support to the PHE for its research in this field.