What is DNA Barcoding?

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.

A DNA Barcode Library

The gene region that is being used as the standard barcode for almost all animal groups is a 648 base-pair region in the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase 1 gene (“CO1”). This method has been proved to be highly effective in identifying birds, mammals, butterflies, fish, bees, flies and many other animal groups.

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, the Barcode of Life Datasystems. LifeScanner is an extension of this database and provides access to data and species identification capabilities to anyone, anywhere.