Reading Eukaryotic Barcodes

If cereal can be barcoded, so can Daphnia or a butterfly, or a hummingbird, or any eukaryotes. A worldwide consortium of research organizations, led by the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), has begun a 2 1/2-year project with $669,000 in seed money from the Sloan Foundation, which they hope will lead to a relatively simple, fast, and cheap way of identifying eukaryotic organisms in the field.

By | April 26, 2004

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If cereal can be barcoded, so can Daphnia or a butterfly, or a hummingbird, or any eukaryotes. A worldwide consortium of research organizations, led by the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), has begun a 2 1/2-year project with $669,000 in seed money from the Sloan Foundation, which they hope will lead to a relatively simple, fast, and cheap way of identifying eukaryotic organisms in the field.

The point of the Barcode of Life Initiative, to be based at NMNH, is to sequence one, or several, common mitochondrial genes and compile a sequence database from identified voucher specimens. A researcher could process a tissue sample from an organism or its parts taken from the field, a museum collection, or from court-case evidence, and compare it with the known database.

The organizers are concentrating on the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene. Lead investigator Scott Miller of NMNH notes that in most cases, there's more than a 2% sequence variation in that gene between related organisms of two different species. He has looked at these sequences in insects in New Guinea and says he has confirmed the differences. Fellow consortium member and Daphnia expert Paul Hébert, University of Guelph, Ontario, says researchers have used COI to differentiate between 260 known species of birds.

Miller and Hébert figure that once the technology is perfected, someone with no systematics background can take a portable instrument into the field, extract DNA and the COI sequence, and compare it with the database entries.

- Myrna E. Watanabe

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