International Barcoding Project Gets $5-Million Boost

February 14, 2008 - News Release

A revolutionary "library of life" that will allow the rapid identification of any animal, plant, fungus or protist is one step closer to reality. The provincial government today announced a $5-million investment in the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project, which will be headquartered at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) at the University of Guelph.

iBOL will involve more than 100 researchers from 25 countries once fully activated. This consortium will create the world’s first reference library of DNA barcodes for use in species identification around the globe. It will also develop new informatics tools and technologies.

"By supporting world-class research, we are attracting the best and brightest research talent to our province and ensuring that cutting-edge discoveries are made right here in Ontario," said John Wilkinson, minister of research and innovation. "This world-renowned research project is enhancing Ontario's global reputation as a beacon for research and innovation, while at the same time helping to lay a foundation for future jobs and economic prosperity."

iBOL will be headed by U of G professor and BIO director Paul Hebert, who was the first scientist to propose that a short DNA sequence from a standard gene region shared by all multicellular life could be used to identify species. He called the system DNA barcoding, analogous to how retail products are tagged in supermarkets to allow their quick identification.

“This groundbreaking alliance will have a profound impact in Canada and around the globe, literally changing how humanity identifies life,” said U of G president Alastair Summerlee. “Ontario and the University of Guelph are leading the world in research in this area, and this investment will help expand this cutting-edge work across countries and continents.”

Liz Sandals, MPP for Guelph-Wellington, added: "The University of Guelph's Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding is an international hub and global leader in this area of scientific expertise. And because it offers health, science and economic benefits for Guelph — and all of Ontario — the opportunities for commercialization and future job growth in this area are very exciting."

DNA barcoding technology reduces species identification time to hours and, eventually, to minutes. The short barcode sequence is used to assign any specimen to a known species or to a new one by matching it against a reference library of sequences. Analysis extends to all life stages and to fragments of organisms.

“Climate change, globalization of trade and calls for biodiversity conservation make rapid species identification a worldwide need,” Hebert said. “DNA barcoding is already an effective tool, but by engaging hundreds of researchers across the globe, we will gather the vital species information needed to guide national mandates for conservation and surveillance.”

DNA barcoding has already led to the discovery of overlooked species of birds, bats, butterflies, fishes and marine algae. But iBOL will drive the DNA barcode library from its current 35,000 species to 500,000 species in its first five years. Hebert estimates that iBOL will gather barcode records for all 10 million species of multicellar life on the planet within 20 years; only 1.6 million of these species have been formally identified over the past 250 years.

iBOL expects to raise $50 million in Canada. Over the past five years, Hebert’s barcoding research has been supported by Genome Canada through the Ontario Genomics Institute (OGI), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canada Research Chairs program and the Ontario government through the Ontario Innovation Trust, Ontario Research Fund and Ministry of Research and Innovation.

Christian Burks, president and CEO of OGI, who has travelled with Hebert around the world to invite participation in iBOL, called it a "bold and visionary initiative. We have been delighted at the multinational enthusiasm for getting this consortium up and running; today's investment from Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation provides an important first step in that direction," he said.

The iBOL consortium expects to raise another $100 million outside of Canada; Argentina, Australia, India, Mexico, China, Costa Rica, and the United States have already made commitments. Hebert expects 25 countries to join iBOL over the next year. The official launch of the international fundraising campaign for iBOL will take place Feb. 18 at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

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