A raft of recent articles show the strength and versatility of a standardized genetic approach to identifying species, ie DNA barcoding. Just as color vision helps us rapidly sort objects into unambiguous categories, DNA analysis usually reveals distinct differences among species, including those whose biological differences lie outside the range of our perception, ie cryptic species. I highlight two of the recent articles below.
In March 20, 2007 Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, researchers at University of Guelph, Canadian Agricultural Department, and University of Pennsylvania apply DNA barcoding to 16 species of apparently generalist parasitoid tachnid flies. Smith et al found 73 distinct mitochondrial DNA lineages among 2,134 flies from the 16 morphospecies. The mitochondrial lineages were supported by collateral ecological differences and, where tested, by independent nuclear gene markers. In an accompanying commentary, Scott Miller, Smithsonian Institution, looks at how DNA barcoding is contributing to the “renaissance of taxonomy” and is “emerging as a cost-effective standard for rapid species identification”.
In 26 March 2007 Mol Ecol Notes, scientists from the University of Auckland apply DNA to identifying rat species in Southeast Asia. Geographic variation in mitochondrial DNA of commensal rats provides a window into patterns of human dispersal and migration, but studies are complicated by the presence of multiple rat species in Southeast Asia, and the difficulty of distinguishing among species in subfossil remains at archeological sites. Robins et al found DNA barcoding with COI mtDNA barcodes distinguished most species, even when short DNA fragments of COI were used (such as might be recoverable from sub-fossil material), and was similarly effective as tree-based methods using COI, cytochrome b, and D-loop sequences. The genetic methods revealed some polytypic and paraphyletic species, suggesting a need for taxonomic revisions in this group.
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