Scientists from U of G, World in Mexico to Talk Barcoding

November 09, 2009 - News Release

More than two dozen scientists from the University of Guelph are in Mexico City this week attending the third international Barcode of Life Conference. The annual gathering is expected to attract 350 researchers worldwide engaged in the U of G-led science initiative, which is quickly amassing barcodes or identifiers for a growing database of life forms.

The conference has already generated international media coverage, including articles and news reports on MSNBC and distributed by the Canadian Press, the Deutsche Presse Agentur (the German Press Agency) and EFE, a major Spanish-language news agency.

The conference is being hosted by the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, which now has 200 member organizations from 50 countries, and the International Barcode of Life Project (iBOL), which is headquartered at U of G and led by scientific director Paul Hebert, a U of G integrative biology professor.

The iBOL Project, which will involve more than 100 researchers from 25 countries once fully activated, 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.

Developed by Hebert, DNA bar coding uses a short-standard region of DNA for identifying species quickly and easily. 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.

"It's the way the planet will be surveilled in the future," Hebert said Friday before leaving for the Mexico conference.

In animals, DNA barcoding has been used successfully to distinguish among 60,000 species since 2003. Researchers have discovered overlooked species of birds, bats, butterflies, fishes and marine algae. It’s also been used to help identify illicit goods at borders, track the spread of disease, and identify mislabelled seafood.

This summer, international scientists concluded a four-year effort to find a standard “plant DNA barcode,” allowing researchers to genetically differentiate the more than 400,000 species of land plants.

During the conference, U of G’s participants will present papers and learn about developments in global barcoding, which include working groups on plants, marine life, fish, pathogens, vectors and parasites, and birds. There will also be courses on barcoding protocols, applications of the technology and managing and analyzing barcoding data.

"Biodiversity scientists are using DNA technology to unravel mysteries, much like detectives use it to solve crimes," said David Schindel, executive secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life. "It is having a profound impact on our understanding of organisms in nature and how they interact with the environment."

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