Genetic ‘Barcodes’ Used to Identify Species
Federal agencies are starting to tap into an ambitious project that is gathering DNA "barcodes" for Earth's 1.8 million known species — a project that could help shoppers avoid mislabeled toxic pufferfish and show pilots how to steer clear of birds.
A consortium of scientists from almost 50 nations is overseeing the building of a global database made from tiny pieces of genetic material. Called DNA barcoding, the process takes a scientist only a few hours in a lab and about $2 to identify a species from a tissue sample or other piece of genetic material.
David Schindel, a Smithsonian Institution paleontologist and executive secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, said the purpose is to create a global reference library "a kind of telephone directory for all species." "If I know that gene sequence, I can submit it as a query to a database and get back the telephone number," he said. "I can get back the species name."
The government's interest in the project stems from a variety of possible uses. The Food and Drug Administration has begun eyeing it as a tool to ferret out hazardous fish species and to confirm a type of leech used in some surgery. In May, the FDA used it to warn that a shipment labeled monkfish from
The Federal Aviation Administration and Air Force hope it will help them identify birds prone to collide with aircraft. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sees it as a means to track commercial fish and reduce killing of unwanted species also caught by nets.
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