Cataloging Life

Can a single barcode of DNA record biodiversity and keep us safe from poisons?

By Bob Grant

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1 for soil nematodes, barcoding's genesis lies in a 2003 paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London2 by Paul Hebert, a Canadian researcher who some call "the father DNA barcoding," and colleagues. In that paper, Hebert's team proposed a universal animal barcode: a segment of roughly 650 base pairs of the mitochondrial gene, cytochrome c oxidase 1 (CO1). CO1 became an attractive candidate for a barcode because the primers used to amplify the gene fragment worked across many animal groups. Moreover, researchers had previously suggested that the gene evolved rapidly enough to allow for discrimination between even closely related species.

CO1 appeared to work well as a barcode, at least for some animals. Using butterflies and moths Hebert collected from his own Canadian backyard...

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