What is a DNA barcode?
A DNA barcode is a unique genetic signature that occurs naturally within the genome of every living species. By reading a short piece of DNA from a tiny tissue sample, scientists can determine which species the animal, plant or microorganism belongs to. These DNA sequences can be used in the same way as the barcodes on consumer products: as digital identifiers for every plant and animal species.
What happens next?
The barcode information, along with collection details and photo are uploaded to the Barcode of Life Data Systems database. Eventually, this web-based reference library will hold a barcode sequence for every species on the planet. With a fragment of tissue, it will be possible to learn – in minutes, any time, anywhere – not just the name of any organism, but everything known about that species. Is it harmful, is it part of a healthy ecosystem or is it endangered and in need of protection?
Who will use all this information?
- biologists – rapidly identifying known species, discovering new species and exploring the complex inter-species relationships that keep ecosystems healthy.
- conservationists – tracking species populations/distribution to monitor the environmental impacts of global warming, pollution and development.
- farmers and foresters – identifying agricultural/forestry pests, finding new biological controls and protecting pollinators.
- healthworkers – identifying and controlling the organisms that make us sick and the vectors that spread them.
- border officials – spotting invasive species and curbing the illegal trade in endangered plants and animals.
- food inspectors – finding potential health risks and exposing fraud (mislabelled meat and fish) in our food supply.
- water authorities – monitoring the quality of our oceans, lakes and rivers – and our drinking water.
- everyone – becoming “citizen scientists,” learning about the other species that share our planet and what we must do to protect them.