Barcoding put to the test

Two studies appear to confirm DNA barcoding as a powerful taxonomic tool. Paul Hebert and colleagues at the University of Guelph, Ontario, analyzed the single gene for cytochrome c oxidase I to distinguish 260 known North American bird species. The so-called DNA barcodes identified four new cryptic species as well.1The group also used the technique to demonstrate that the neotropical skipper butterfly, Astraptes fulgerator, comprises at least 10 species.2 Felix Sperling of the University of Albe

Nick Atkinson
Oct 24, 2004
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Two studies appear to confirm DNA barcoding as a powerful taxonomic tool. Paul Hebert and colleagues at the University of Guelph, Ontario, analyzed the single gene for cytochrome c oxidase I to distinguish 260 known North American bird species. The so-called DNA barcodes identified four new cryptic species as well.1

The group also used the technique to demonstrate that the neotropical skipper butterfly, Astraptes fulgerator, comprises at least 10 species.2 Felix Sperling of the University of Alberta calls Hebert's work "an excellent demonstration of the power of DNA barcoding to make sense of a confusing welter of ecological and color-pattern variation."

But he warns about reliance on the technique: "Some of the barcoding apologists have done a disservice to systematics and especially taxonomy by overselling the strengths of the approach." While Hebert admits a single gene doesn't tell the whole story, he says a multigenic approach would...

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