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First steps to barcode all life

10 February 2005

The first step towards genetically identifying, or barcoding, every species on Earth has been taken at the International Conference for the Barcoding of Life, held on 10 February 2005.

Soldier fish

The conference, hosted by the Natural History Museum on behalf of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL), brought together many experts in plant and animal taxonomy, forensic sequencing, environmental genomics, information management, and other related fields.

Three worldwide DNA barcoding projects have been launched with the aim to gather the DNA barcode sequences of all the world's fish and bird species, and to create a database of information for scientists and people to use across the world.

Less than a fifth of the Earth's 10 million species of plants and animals have been named. Using advances in electronics and genetics, barcoding will enable people to quickly and cheaply recognise information about known species and will speed the discovery of the millions of unnamed species.

The information collected will have many uses and applications for the whole of society, for example identifying pathogens and diseases, recognising pest species and identifying endangered species.

‘DNA barcoding will make a huge difference to our knowledge and understanding of the natural world,’ said Scott Miller, Chair of CBOL. ‘The Barcode of Life initiative aims to complement existing taxonomic practice, to build on it and expand its power and use.’

Dr Richard Lane, Director of Science at the Natural History Museum, London, commented: ‘If we don't know what species we have, how can we know what we're losing and take practical steps to stem the loss of the world's plants and animals? Just as the human genome project inspired new ways of human biological research, we hope that barcoding DNA will lead to new ways of investigating ecology and evolution that can be of use to all.’