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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Google search leads to CBOL

Following the first Banbury workshop in March 2003, Jesse Ausubel and I wrote a “Draft Scientific Rationale and Strategy” that described DNA barcoding as ““Google” for Life Forms” (with the name in quotes in case readers didn’t get the reference, hard to imagine today!). One year and a second Banbury workshop later the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) was inaugurated at Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC.

This week the Google Foundation announced a $3 million Global Impact Award to CBOL to enable a DNA barcode reference library for endangered species (and their close relatives) as a tool to prevent illegal wildlife trafficking.  As in 2003, this is a wonderfully natural pairing of organizations and a cause for the entire barcoding community to celebrate.

In the language of today, we can see the DNA Barcoding/Google for Life Forms is a kind of “open access” to taxonomic knowledge.  It may turn out that the ability to identify species, like the ability to search the internet, will have wider consequences than we currently forsee. In The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age (2011), author Nathan Wolfe cites the 2008 high school student DNA barcoding ‘Sushi-gate’ project as “one of the first notable examples of nonscientists “reading” genetic information.” As a Cassandra, Wolfe envisions this as a first step towards DIY bioterrorists but I imagine it is more likely a first step towards DIY biologists sequencing everything in sight, helping monitor the health of the environment, including tracking spread of human and animal diseases.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 at 3:24 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.