Campus News

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

News Release

May 09, 2007

U of G's Biodiversity Institute of Ontario Opens

See CBC story

The world’s first centre for high-volume DNA barcoding has officially opened on the University of Guelph campus.

The Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) will provide researchers with the equipment needed to discover, identify and catalogue species from around the world using barcode technology.

“Today we are celebrating the opening of a facility that has the potential to literally change the way the world looks at life on our planet,” said Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research). “There are no topics more fundamental to biology than the relationships of species to each other.”

Inside the $4.2-million facility, researchers are working on creating a complete inventory of the world’s species using tissue samples. A short DNA sequence from a gene found in all multicellular organisms is analyzed and used to identify the species. DNA barcoding conducted at the centre has already led to the discovery of new species of birds, butterflies and fishes. The information is then entered into an online database of established DNA barcodes called the Barcode of Life Data System.

It’s anticipated the centre will enter about 500,000 barcode analyses per year once it is in full production.

“We are building a master key to life that will represent a major advance in accessibility to biological identifications,” said Paul Hebert, University of Guelph Canada research chair in molecular biodiversity and director of BIO. “What it effectively means is that researchers will find a barcode linked to just about anything they encounter anywhere on the planet.”

Hebert was the first scientist to propose this form of species identification. He called it “DNA barcoding” to reflect the fact that analysis focuses on a short, standard gene region. Just as retail barcodes enable the quick identification of millions of items on store shelves, DNA barcodes will enable the rapid identification of species.

The centre’s technology can help reduce species identification time from days to a matter of minutes. 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.

Hebert said the ultimate goal is to introduce barcoding technology to public use for applications such as border control, pest management, food safety and environmental monitoring.

Eliot Phillipson, president and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), says the BIO represents what the CFI is all about: "providing the tools to institutions and researchers so that they can do the cutting-edge research that will have a profound impact in Canada and around the world. This is a shining example of Canadian science leading the way.”

CFI is among a number of organizations that have funded the facility, including Genome Canada, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canada Research Chair program and the Ontario government through Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT).

“The Biodiversity Institute of Ontario is a terrific example of what can be achieved through collaboration when scientists and researchers of new technologies come together with a common goal,” said OIT president Kenneth Knox. “On behalf of the people of Ontario, we congratulate the University of Guelph and your research partners. The trust is proud to be a player in providing world-class tools to these researchers so they can do the leading-edge barcode technology research that will benefit not just Ontarians but the world.”

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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