DNA Barcoding Library Receives $650,000 from CFI

January 15, 2013 - News Release

Improving pest and disease control, regulation of international trade and markets, and ecosystem conservation are among the expected benefits of the digital DNA “library” of Canadian plants and animals to be developed at the University of Guelph with new federal funding.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) announced today it will invest more than $650,000 in the new initiative at U of G’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO).

Headed by Paul Hebert, BIO director and a U of G integrative biology professor, the project will see researchers digitize hundreds of thousands of Canadian specimens using DNA barcoding.

This method allows scientists to identify animal and plant species using short standardized regions of genetic material. First proposed by Hebert, this analytical approach works for all life stages and will eventually allow biologists to rapidly identify species from even a snippet of DNA.

“This support from CFI is well-deserved recognition for Paul Hebert and his research team,” said Kevin Hall, Guelph’s vice-president (research). “It caps off nearly a decade of effort and investment by the University of Guelph and other public and private supporters in the rapidly developing field of DNA barcoding.

“Our biodiversity team developed a novel technique and honed it into a multifaceted international research program. DNA barcoding is revolutionizing how species are identified and recorded, and providing new tools for everything from monitoring invasive species to genetic tracing to alleviating consumer fears.”

Project funding came from CFI’s Leading Edge Fund, which aids successful and productive initiatives already supported by the federal agency. With anticipated matching provincial funding, the total support for the project will exceed $1.5 million.

CFI has already invested millions of dollars in DNA barcoding initiatives at Guelph, most recently in 2009 when it granted Hebert’s team more than $7 million to build the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics within BIO. BIO serves as the hub for global DNA barcoding research. The International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project involves more than 1,000 researchers in 26 countries in developing a DNA barcode reference library as well as new informatics tools and technologies.

“My colleagues and I are very grateful that CFI has decided to reinforce its prior investments in DNA barcoding,” Hebert said.

“This new award will speed the development of a comprehensive DNA barcode library for Canadian plants and animals by enabling the analysis of specimens held in the major natural history collections across our nation.

“It will also allow us to expand the capabilities of our informatics platform to progress DNA-based bio-surveillance programs. Finally, this new grant will help to sustain Canada’s leadership of iBOL, the largest research program ever undertaken in biodiversity genomics.”

DNA barcoding has already led to the discovery of hundreds of overlooked species of birds, bats, butterflies, fishes and marine algae. It has also been adopted by regulatory agencies to authenticate and identify mislabelled food and other consumer products.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or lhunt@uoguelph.ca; or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982, or kgonsalves@uoguelph.ca.

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