Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 26, 2005

U of G Prof Receives Support For DNA Barcoding Network

A University of Guelph integrative biology professor has received nearly $5 million from Genome Canada to create the world's first comprehensive DNA barcoding libraries and to support a centre for high-volume DNA barcoding.

The funding for the Canadian Barcode of Life Network, headed by U of G Prof. Paul Hebert, was announced Thursday afternoon in Winnipeg by Industry Minister David Emerson and Cal Stiller, chairman of the board of Genome Canada.

It was one of 33 research projects that received $346 million in support. Of this, $167.2 million is being provided by Genome Canada and $179.3 million by Canadian and international partners (with 80 percent of those funds coming from the Canadian public sector). When co-funding is included, total support for Hebert's project will exceed $9.6 million.

The barcoding network seeks to develop a universal DNA-based identification system for all the world's birds and fish, and then of its fungi, plants and single-celled organisms. It will be based at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, which is being built on the west side of U of G's campus and will be directed by Hebert. The institute will provide researchers with the facilities and equipment needed to conduct analysis on species from around the world.

"This project is a vital step toward the creation of a complete inventory of Canadian biodiversity – the first inventory of its kind in the world," said Hebert, who was the first scientist to propose that a short DNA sequence from a gene found in all animals can be used to identify species.

Hebert called it "DNA barcoding" to reflect the fact that analysis focuses on a short, standard gene region. Just as retail barcodes allow the quick identification of millions of items on store shelves, so too will DNA barcodes allow the rapid identification of species, he said.

"Paul Hebert's leadership in this field is internationally recognized. Genome Canada's support is vital to the development of this leading-edge facility," said U of G president Alastair Summerlee. "The potential of Hebert's work for the future of scientific discovery is profound."

Already, DNA barcoding is being used by scientists around the world. It has led to the discovery of new species of birds, butterflies and fishes. Hebert estimates that in about 20 years, the technique could enable completion of a catalogue of the estimated 10 million species of animals on the planet, of which only 1.2 million have been formally identified over the past 250 years.

It is hoped that the barcoding network will eventually lead to development of hand-held barcode devices. These devices could then be used in the rapid identification of thousands of species with the potential to yield lifesaving drugs, or to signal the presence of animal and plant organisms in food even after processing.

Prof. Paul Hebert
Department of Integrative Biology
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 56668

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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