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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Helping the public by incorporating DNA barcodes into species descriptions

A bewildering array of morphologic nuances are needed to identify species.  DNA sequences, aka DNA barcodes, can also be identifiers, with the advantage that anyone with the right device can name a specimen without having to consult an expert or search through taxonomic keys which are generally indecipherable to the non-specialist. As DNA barcode identifications become more common, will this mean a loss of biologically important knowledge? To my reading, the answer is no, as the subtle differences in specialized structures used to identify organisms generally provide little insight into how organisms live and what they do. Thus it is exciting that standardized COI DNA barcodes are being incorporated into species descriptions as this will help democratize access to species names and the biological knowledge they represent.

A 2007 monograph describes 11 new dogfish species in the genus Squalus from the Indo-West Pacific using “a rapid taxonomic approach” incorporating digital images, morphometric measurements, and DNA barcodes.  Even for something as recognizable as a shark, it would be difficult for most persons to apply the morphometric measurements (example shown at left) used to characterize these new species. DNA barcoding has the potential to expand the pool of persons able to name shark species, helping those trying to understand shark biology and those assigned to enforce regulations that protect shark species. Biologists might choose to adopt DNA barcoding as a routine identification tool, rather than measuring “labial furrow length” or “internarial space”, for example.  

For many organisms, even those of economic importance, the number of persons who can apply the relevant morphologic tools is often very small, and the value of DNA barcoding as a widely-accessible tool potentially greater. 

In Can Entomol 139:319 (2007) Jean-Francois Landry, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Canada, provides a taxonomic review of the leek moth genus Acrolepiopsis in North America which includes serious pests of onion and garlic crops.

The monograph includes detailed morphologic illustrations of male and female specimens, cocoons, pupae, and crop damage, and for the non-specialist, DNA barcodes of 30 individuals from 5 of the 6 species, and these are also publicly available on the BOLD website under “Published Projects” tab, including maps showing collection locations and photographs of the individual specimens.

As shown below in the dissections of male Acrolepiopsis genitalia, the morphologic illustrations can be beautiful, but the distinctive characters are not necessarily informative about the biology of the species. 

This entry was posted on Sunday, June 24th, 2007 at 8:23 pm 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.