DNA Barcoding Boom

This week, 450 scientists and industry experts gather at the University of Adelaide in Australia to discuss one of the latest fads in biology—species identification with minimal DNA.

Nov 29, 2011
Jef Akst


DNA barcoding involves the use of only a tiny snippet of DNA to identify unknown species. The technique has become so popular of late that for the last three years, researchers started a meeting dedicated to the topic—the International Barcode of Life Conference. The fourth annual gathering of DNA barcoders is now underway at the University of Adelaide in Australia, with researchers presenting the technology’s latest results, including the identification of unlisted ingredients in herbal tea bags and the detection of a camel’s diet from samples of its dung.

Currently, there are more than 167,00 species in the publically available database of DNA barcodes, and the Consortium for the Barcode of Life aims to increase that number to 500,000 by 2015. DNA barcoding has already been used to identify sushi vendors and other restaurants that mislabel fish species, overcharging for cheaper varieties, and this past October, the US Food and Drug Administration officially approved its use in industry. “We’re going to start seeing a self-regulating movement by the high-end trade, embracing barcoding as a mark of quality,” David Schindel, executive secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, told the Associated Press.

The technique is also being applied to more basic research endeavors, including the identification of remnant DNA found in the arctic permafrost and measuring water quality by scanning for microbes. And genomicist Mark Stoeckle has even brought DNA barcoding into his Upper West Side apartment, where local high schoolers can test the DNA found in fish, feather, cheese, tea and other biological samples. (See the full story, Barcode High, in our November/December issue, coming out later this week.)