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.