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...

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