Paul Hebert

Paul Hebert
Professor Canada Research Chair, Tier 1 and Director (Centre for Biodiversity Genomics)
Phone number: 
519-824-4120 x56250
Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG) Rm. 107

My interest in the natural world started with a keen interest in collecting insects as a child. This eventually led to my completing my B.Sc. at Queens. After receiving my Ph.D. in genetics at Cambridge University, I took up a Rutherford Fellowship at the University of Sydney. I returned to Canada in 1976, accepting a position at the University of Windsor where I was a professor in Biological Sciences and Director of the Great Lakes Institute. I moved to the University of Guelph in 1990 as Chair of the Department of Zoology. I have served as a member and chair of the NSERC Ecology and Evolution Grant selection Committee. I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and hold a Canada Research Chair in Molecular Biodiversity.

  • B.Sc. - Queens 1969
  • Ph.D. - Cambridge 1972

The Barcode of Life

We are working towards the development of a DNA barcoding system which uses a small DNA fragment to discriminate species. This work not only promises a simple solution to taxonomic identity, but will generate important new insights into the age of species and their phylogenetic affinities.

The detailed understanding of biodiversity is critical for progress in fields such as ecology and evolution. It is also an important element for conservation programs, for the designation of protected areas, and for marketplace surveillance. Yet most species are unknown and the identification of known species is complex. My work is focused on empowering biodiversity science by creating a DNA-based identification system to resolve the taxonomic impediment. My laboratory first proposed and has subsequently led the development of a research program that focuses on the use of sequence diversity in short, standardized gene regions (DNA barcodes) for species identification and discovery. Our work over the past decade has established that most species have long enough histories and tight enough reproductive isolation to permit their diagnosis with very limited sequence information. In fact, highly effective identification systems can be based on a single or, at most, a few sequence reads. Termed DNA barcoding, this approach has now gained general acceptance as transformative technology. My research team plays a key role in the global DNA barcoding movement as we operate the largest facility for sequence analysis and the informatics platform which stores barcode data. In fact, 73% of the current 4.5 million DNA barcode records were gathered in our core facility. DNA barcoding represents a fundamental shift from the past reliance on morphological characters to identify and discover species. The impact of moving from identification systems based on analogue characters to digital systems based on DNA will lead to higher precision, to the automation of species identification, and to universal accessibility to biodiversity information. This transition has very important practical implications; it promises better protection of forestry and agriculture, earlier interception of invasive species, an enhanced capacity for ecosystem monitoring and an aid to conservation programs.

  • Young M and PDN Hebert. 2015. Patterns of protein evolution in cytochrome c oxidase 1 (COI) from the class Arachnida. PLOS ONE 10: e0135053.
  • Lavinia PD, KCR Kerr, PL Tubaro, PDN Hebert and DA Lijtmaer. 2015. Calibrating the molecular clock beyond cytochrome b: assessing the evolutionary rate of COI in birds. J. Avian Biology 46: 1-8.
  • Mutanen M, M Kekkonen, SWJ Prosser, PDN Hebert and L Kaila. 2015. One species in eight: DNA barcodes from type specimens resolve a taxonomic quagmire. Mol. Ecol. Res: 15: 967-984.
  • Huemer P, M Mutanen, KM Sefc, PDN Hebert. 2014. Testing DNA barcode performance in 1000 species of European Lepidoptera: Large geographic distances have small genetic impacts. PLOS ONE 9: e115774.
  • Zahari R, D Lafontaine, C Schmidt, E Zakharov and PDN Hebert. 2014. A transcontinental challenge - A test of DNA barcode performance for 1541 species on Canadian Noctuoidea (Lepidoptera). PLOS ONE 9: e92797.
  • Kekkonen M and PDN Hebert. 2014. DNA barcode-based delineation of putative species: efficient start for taxonomic workflows. Mol. Ecol. Res. 14: 706-715.
  • Wirta HK, PDN Hebert, R Kaartinen, SW Prosser, G. Varkonyi and T Roslin. 2014. Complementary molecular information changes our perception of food web structure. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 111: 1885-189.
  • Ratnasingham S and PDN Hebert. 2013. A DNA-based registry for all animal species: The Barcode Index Number (BIN) System. PLOS ONE 8: e66213.
  • Hebert PDN, S Ratnasingham, EV Zakharov, V Levesque-Beaudin, AC Telfer, MA Milton, S Pedersen, P Jannetta and JR deWaard.  2016. Counting animal species with DNA barcodes: Canadian insects. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150333.
  • Hebert PDN, PM Hollingsworth and M Hajibabaei. 2016. From writing to reading the encyclopedia of life. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150321.
  • D'Ercole, Jacopo (PhD)
  • D'Souza, Michelle (PhD)
  • Young, Monica (PhD)