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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Detecting aliens with DNA

Alien species sometimes damage native landscapes. In Voyage of the Beagle, in entry dated September 19, 1832, Darwin describes the spread of an introduced European thistle Cyanara cardunculus in Banda Oriental, now Uruguay: “very many (probably several hundred) square miles are covered by one mass of these prickly plants, and are impenetrable by man or beast. Over the undulating plains, where these great beds occur, nothing else can live…I doubt whether any case is on record, of an invasion on so grand a scale of one plant over the aborigines.”

The challenge is to recognize invasive species before they become established. In 11 January 2008 Polar Biology researchers from Stellenbosch University and University of Western Ontario apply DNA barcoding to otherwise unrecognizable moth larvae on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. The indigenous Lepidoptera on Marion Island comprises 2 or 3 flightless moths, and the occassional adult winged moths or butterflies have been assumed to be transients arrived on fresh produce.

In April 2004, 3 noctuid moth larvae were found in an abandoned Wandering Albatross nest, a common habitat for one of the indigenous moth species. The larvae could be tentatively identified only to genus level and so rearing was attempted, with one larva dying after several months of pupating (as an aside, this is one example of how morphologic identifications can be laborious and/or incomplete, even for experts). The final larva was killed and preserved for DNA study; COI DNA barcode region was amplified using standard Folmer primers. The Marion Island moth larva barcode clustered with the 40 or so Black Cutworm Agrotis ipsilon sequences in BOLD, and was distinct from COI sequences of the other 18 Agrotis species in BOLD. Agrotis ipsilon is a common pest that feeds on a wide variety of plants. The authors conclude that Agrotis ipsilon is an established alien species with the potential to disrupt local ecosystems and that “steps be taken to eradicate the species from Marion Island.”

It is easy to predict that rapid identification of potential invasive alien species will be a major application of DNA barcoding, with direct economic and ecosystem benefits.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 7th, 2008 at 10:15 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.