I heard about this research from a friend of mine who studies at the University of Guelph. The link I listed is to the general overview about what DNA barcoding is, but there are other links to explore within that website if you are curious. Basically, scientists are in the process of assigning animals, insects, and plants “barcodes,” similar to the idea of Universal Product Codes you scan at a supermarket. Normally an experienced, professional taxonomist is needed to properly identify certain specimens. However, even for a professional, there is still a level of human error associated with identification if specimens have been damaged or are not fully matured. DNA barcoding will be a relatively simple way for non-experts to make fast and accurate identifications. There is a gene region nicknamed “CO1” that is being used to identify almost all animal groups. Because CO1 evolves slowly in plants, other gene regions are used to barcode plants.
In order to fully process a sample, it goes through four stages:
1. Tissue Collection (from the field, museums, seed banks, zoos, etc)
2. Laboratory Analysis (with high-tech equipment, DNA barcode sequences can be obtained in only a few hours)
3. Database Updates (records go into the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaborative or the Barcode of Life Database [BOLD])
4. Data Analysis (“Specimens are identified by finding the closest matching reference record in the database.”)
The link above gives a nice flow chart of the whole process. I think this is a great idea, and will definitely be useful in the future. DNA barcoding opens up more research options for people who might not be experts with certain organisms, and it will also minimize human error. Additionally, the final “Encyclopedia of Life” will be a valuable resource for the general public. However, it is a very daunting task to collect tissue samples from every plant and organism known to man!