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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Expanding access to DNA secrets

When Roger Tory Peterson’s “A Field Guide to the Birds” was published in 1934, it opened the door to a multitude of persons being able to identify birds, helped create small industry of birding guides and optics, and was a driving force in the much larger social transformation in awareness of the natural world and human impact. I see the library of DNA barcodes as a (near) universal field guide to the immense diversity of multicellular life, with similar potential for large scientific and societal benefits. Of course the library is not complete (so far, >1 M records, >92 K species), but enough work has been done in diverse taxonomic groups to be confident that a library of standardized, short DNA sequences linked to named, vouchered specimens (i.e. DNA barcodes) will enable species-level identification of most multicellular animals and narrow identification to one or few plant species.

So far, it is mostly only scientists who have direct access to DNA secrets. A future in which non-professionals analyze DNA is creeping closer. You can mail a cheek swab to a DNA lab to reconstruct your personal ancestral genealogy ($150) or check paternity ($400). Whole genome sequencing is available too, but to my reading this is too expensive for now ($20,000) and the results and interpretation are not generally useful. Kits for DNA analysis are already in use in high school classrooms and, closer to home, educational DNA barcoding looks to be around the corner. In December 20, 2010, Bio-Rad Laboratories, a scientific supply company, announced a partnership with Coastal Marine BioLabs (CMB) to develop “DNA barcoding instructional activities for classrooms.” CMB has been active in engaging high school students in generating and submitting reference data to the BOLD database. I expect the potential market for DNA barcoding kits in education is large.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 3rd, 2011 at 4:38 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.

One Response to “Expanding access to DNA secrets”

  1. Lenore Kelly Says:

    My grandpa in rural Illinois had a Peterson’s Field Guide in the 50’s which he used to identify the “chippies”. I have it now and remember him with fondness. All this science fol-de-rol would have been over his head, but I am following it with fascination. Agilent Technologies is using a related technique (cyt b, rather than cytochrome oxidase) to identify pathogens in a rapid test.


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.