China Joins DNA Barcoding Project

May 07, 2008 - News Release

There is a new branch of the revolutionary "barcode of life" international library. China is striving to raise more than $25 million for the University of Guelph-based project that will allow the rapid identification of any animal, plant, fungus or protist.

"China is home to some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet," said Paul Hebert, scientific director of the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) Project, which is headquartered at U of G's Biodiversity Institute of Ontario.

"The Chinese Academy of Sciences also has a long history of world-class contributions to the science of taxonomy and biodiversity,” he said. “Their participation in iBOL will contribute significantly to its success.”

China will be a Central Node in the iBOL Project, which will involve more than 100 researchers from 25 countries once fully activated. The 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.

"This is a very exciting development on a project that has already garnered significant financial support from around the world," said U of G president Alastair Summerlee.

"This alliance will have a profound impact in Canada and around the globe. Barcoding life may be one of the key ways we can identify the loss of diversity of life on the planet, measure the impacts of climate change, and monitor the spread of infectious disease and the vectors that transmit them."

Hebert 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. 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.

China is the latest country to commit to the international project: Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica and the United States have already made commitments. Hebert expects 25 countries to join iBOL over the next year.

In February, the Ontario government announced a $5.2-million investment in the project. Eventually, iBOL expects to raise $50 million in Canada and $100 million internationally.

DNA barcoding has 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 multicelluar life on the planet within 20 years; only 1.6 million of these species have been formally identified over the past 250 years

“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," he said.

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