International Barcode of Life Project Gets $8.1 Million

April 23, 2010 - News Release

The Ontario government is investing an additional $8.1 million in the University of Guelph-based International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project, the world's largest biodiversity genomics project.

The announcement was made today by Liz Sandals, MPP for Guelph, on behalf of John Milloy, minister of research and innovation.

Guelph’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) will be the scientific hub for iBOL, which will officially launch in the fall. Already researchers are quickly amassing barcodes or identifiers for a growing database of life forms, and developing new informatics tools and technologies. Once fully activated, it will involve more than 100 researchers from 26 countries.

“This consortium will transform the future,” said U of G president Alastair Summerlee. “It will be the world’s first reference library of DNA barcodes. Any life form, from anywhere on the planet, can be rapidly identified. This investment confirms and supports the international leadership for Ontario and Guelph in the study of biodiversity.”

The funding comes from the Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Global Leadership Round in Genomics and Life Sciences. It builds on a $5-million provincial investment in iBOL from 2008.

“Guelph is home to world-leading researchers,” said Sandals. “We’re proud to be helping the University of Guelph make discoveries that will lead to better lives for Ontario families.”

iBOL will be headed by U of G professor and BIO director Paul Hebert. He 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.

DNA barcoding reduces species identification time to hours and, eventually, to minutes. Analysis extends to all life stages and to fragments of organisms. The technology has led to the discovery of overlooked species around the world. The technology has numerous practical applications, from ecosystem conservation to biosurveillance to food safety.

iBOL will drive the DNA barcode library from its current 35,000 species to 500,000 species in its first five years. It’s estimated that iBOL will gather barcode records for all 10 million species of multicellular life on the planet within 20 years; only 1.6 million of these species have been formally identified over the past 250 years.

“We are grateful for the vision shown by our federal and provincial governments and by their science funding agencies,” Hebert said. “Their leadership is enabling an initiative that will transform humanity’s relationship with other living organisms.”

Today’s funding announcement is the latest in a series of significant government investments in DNA barcoding initiatives.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation committed nearly $5 million to DNA barcoding in 2002, funding that was matched by the Ontario government.

In 2009, CFI invested $7.2 million for a Centre for Biodiversity Genomics within BIO. That centre will develop and apply DNA-based approaches for biodiversity analysis and will support iBOL.

Genome Canada invested nearly $5 million in DNA barcoding in 2005. In 2009, it committed another $2 million through its International Consortium Initiative Program. And this April, the federal agency announced that it’s extending its support for the iBOL project for another year with a second funding instalment of $4.6 million.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada has invested some $6.2 million in DNA barcoding research programs.

Canada’s International Development Research Centre has provided $2.2 million to enable researchers in five developing countries to play key roles in iBOL.

Hebert also holds a prestigious Canada Research Chair, a seven-year, $1-million position supported by Industry Canada, which he uses to advance his DNA barcoding research. Awarded in 2001, the chair was renewed in 2008.

DNA barcoding has also received millions of dollars in private donations over the years, including $3 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and $1 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or

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