Geneticists Crack the Species Code
By Stephen Leahy
Sep 14 (IPS) – Scientists are enthusiastic about a new DNA barcoding technology that will help keep illegal fish and timber out of global markets, slow the spread of invasive pests, and improve food safety and disease prevention and offer better environmental monitoring.
“When a tree has been turned into a pile of lumber it’s very hard to know what species it was.” — David Schindel, executive secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life
U.S. government regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are beginning to utilise the three-year-old technology.
“It’s now a proven technology, everyone wants to use it,” said David Schindel, executive secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, comprised of 160 scientific and regulatory organisations from 50 countries and based at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
“It’s also an incredibly important technology for developing countries to research and protect their biodversity,” Schindel told IPS.
DNA barcoding is a fast, low-cost tool to identify plant and animal species developed in 2003 by Paul Herbert of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at Canada’s University of Guelph.
DNA is found in all living things, and is a complex molecule that contains all the genetic instructions for an organism to develop. Not surprisingly, the DNA of a human is different and more complex than that of a worm — although mouse DNA is similar to human DNA. The genetic differences within the millions of pieces that make up DNA among animal species were very hard to find.
Herbert’s breakthrough was the discovery of a portion of a gene that is unique to each animal species — its “DNA barcode”.
This week, 350 DNA experts from 46 nations are meeting in Taipei with health officials, government agencies and others to get a better understanding of how to use this new technology to improve consumer protection and food safety, prevent disease, monitor changes in the environment, and more.
Barcoding the world’s several thousand species of mosquitoes is expected to become a priority since they are responsible for 500 million human malarial infections and a million deaths each year. Mosquitoes also transmit many other devastating diseases, like West Nile virus and dengue, as well as parasites.
“Key to disease management is vector control,” said scientist Yvonne-Marie Linton of London’s Natural History Museum, and leader of the Mosquito Barcoding Initiative (MBI).
Until now, control efforts have been consistently undermined by species misidentification. DNA barcoding can tremendously assist the world’s expert mosquito taxonomists struggling to keep up with new species discoveries, she added.
Researchers elsewhere worldwide are focused on barcoding other biting insects — blood-sucking pests to birds, people and other mammals alike — causing diseases, stress and allergic reactions.
For full article please see Geneticists Crack the Species Code of Life.