'Bar Code of Life' Project Gears Up for Global Test Run

Fully one-third of all species on the planet may be gone by the end of this century—many without ever having been studied or, more importantly, protected.’ — from the July 13, 2010 PLoS Biology paper, Barcoding Life to Conserve Diversity: Beyond the Taxonomic Imperative, by Vernooy et al*.

2010 is officially the International Year of Biodiversity. It would seem a timely and fortuitous development that in this same year–one that has brought already so much news of ecosystem collapses and pending species extinctions–a new initiative is underway to help conserve our planet’s biodiversity wealth: the international Barcode of Life Project (iBOL).

Genetic barcoding is a technique that involves identifying  segments of animal DNA (genomes) that are unique to each species. These unique genetic sequences are preserved in a database (the iBOL library) that anyone can access for free.

So-called ‘barcoding’ animal gene sequences was originally developed as a taxonomic tool to identify and distinguish one species from another, as well as to keep track of the total number of known species in the world (scientists estimate that only 10% of the world’s animal species have been identified). But it has quickly become apparent that the technique can be quite useful in tracking biodiversity the world over.

As ecosystems worldwide become threatened, and/or are incrementally destroyed–and thus, as the animals occupying them become likewise threatened–the valuation and preservation of ‘ecosystem services’ is being discussed more and more within the political and scientific communities. Thus also,  proper management of existing ecosystems becomes a priority. But managing an ecosystem means knowing most or all of the animal species (and even sub-species)–from the smallest bacterium to the largest predator–that comprise that ecosystem.

A major tool for tracking and monitoring ecosystem biodiversity is  genetic ‘barcoding’, which is a genetic sampling technology that identifies segments (sequences) of the genome that are unique to each species (note: these sequences come from a sub-unit of the animals’ mitochondrial DNA; in plants, a different region of the nuclear genome is used). These sequences are stored in a free-access database, which is the heart of the international Barcode of Life (iBOL) project.

Genetic barcoding will also enable scientist to quickly identify whether a found species is a new (as yet undiscovered/uncatalogued)  species.

The iBOL Project will kick off officially this  October, 201

According to the paper:

The International Barcode of Life Project…”will bring together 26  countries  to broaden and strengthen DNA barcoding research with potential social, cultural, and economic, implications—direct and indirect—with a special focus on developing countries.”

“Because the true stewards of biological diversity are at the local level, it is imperative that they be included in the process. This means obtaining consent from the competent authority before collecting specimens and barcoding, sharing the resulting data with local people, and building capacity to use the new knowledge generated. “

The project hopes to sample some 5 million specimens–representing some 500,000 distinct species–in its first 5 years of implementation.

This major, global research effort falls under the “access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits” cited in  the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD; entered into force in 1993).

A chief concern–and a potential major legal obstacle– is the “equitable sharing of benefits” part (notated as ‘ABS’ in the CBD) which is the primary concern of poorer states that possess “biological hotspots” of major interest to the iBOL project and scientists world-wide (see chart below).

1. The Tropical Andes 2. Mesoamerica 3. The Caribbean Islands 4. The Atlantic Forest 5. Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena 6. The Cerrado 7. The Valdivian Temperate Rain Forests 8. The California Floristic Province 9. Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands 10. The Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa 11. The Guinean Forests of West Africa 12. The Cape Floristic Region 13. The Succulent Karoo 14. The Mediterranean Basin 15. The Caucasus 16. Sundaland 17. Wallacea 18. The Philippines 19. Indo-Burma 20. The Mountains of Southwest China 21. Western Ghats and Sri Lanka 22. Southwestern Australia 23. New Caledonia 24. New Zealand 25. Polynesia and Micronesia

The iBOL adheres to the three main objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD):

1] conservation of biodiversity

2] sustainable use of biodiversity

3] the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic  resources.

For more information on the iBOL Project, click this link.

*Source (link to PLoS Biology) and authors of the cited paper:

Barcoding Life to Conserve Biological Diversity: Beyond the Taxonomic Imperative – Ronnie Vernooy, Ejnavarzala Haribabu, Manuel Ruiz Muller, Joseph Henry Vogel, Paul D. N. Hebert, David E. Schindel, Junko Shimura, Gregory A. C. Singer

image credits:

top image: digital genetic sequence (AMY 1 gene) by TransControl / public domain

middle  chart: (discovered/to discover species chart) KVDP / public domain

bottom chart: (biological ‘hotspot’ map) by

World_map_blank_without_borders.svg: Crates

derivative work: Ninjatacoshell (talk)

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

2 thoughts on “'Bar Code of Life' Project Gears Up for Global Test Run”

  1. Actually, the "plugging in" of information (the genetic sequence 'bar code') is the first step to saving many animals; one can't save what one doesn't know even exists. Identifying rare but related species, or a believed-to-be-extinct one, through barcoding, provides valuable date for ecological assessments, which are prerequisites for federal protections of habitats.

  2. I don't get it? We are going to plug in their information, and neglect to save them? Wow sounds more important to log in their info than to save them. So sad…
    If this is done, and saving them isn't then, I can just hand my grandchildren a list of all the animals they will never know.

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