DNA Barcoding

Using DNA to classify and identify living things


In 2003, Paul Hebert, a researcher at the University of Guelph in Canada, proposed DNA Barcoding as a way to identify species. Barcoding uses a very short genetic sequence from a specific part of the genome in the same way a supermarket scanner distinguishes products using the black stripes of the Universal Product Code (UPC). Two items may look very similar to the untrained eye, but their DNA Barcodes may be different.

Until recently, species have been identified using features like the shape, size and color of body parts. In some cases a trained technician could make routine identifications using morphological keys (step-by-step instructions of what to look for), but in most cases an experienced professional scientist is needed. If a specimen is damaged or is in an immature stage of development, even specialists may be unable to make identifications. Barcoding solves these problems because even non-scientists can obtain barcodes from tiny amounts of tissue.


Due to the success of this method, researchers from around the world have joined together to develop a reference database of species and their DNA Barcodes, called the Barcode of Life Datasystems. LifeScanner is an extension of this database and provides access to data and species identification capabilities to anyone, anywhere.

You can help catalog new species by sending samples in for DNA barcoding with a LifeScanner kit. The data you collect, along with the resulting DNA barcode are provided to the research teams of the International Barcode of Life project. This can help these scientists discover new species, protect species-at-risk, and gain new understandings of the relationships between species in our environment.