Barcodes used to catalogue animal species

February 26, 2014
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barcode labelsThe traditional idea of a barcode label is the stripey little tag on retail commodities which allows sellers and manufacturers to keep tabs on the size and make up of their stock. It is of very little interest to the general consumer unless they are either going though a self check-out in a superstore or using 2D barcodes on their mobile.  Well, barcodes, as we have reported on the Tanto labels blog continues to be used in the most surprising and useful areas.  Now it is being used to catalogue animal species.

A dilemma for naturalists

“Animal species?” “Surely they are all catalogued already?” I hear you say. The problem is bigger than you think. With  up to 100 million species on Earth it would take 100,000 taxonomists to sustain records as they stand.

This is where the IBOL (International Barcode of Life)  system comes in. It aims to create unique DNA identification barcodes for more than 5 million specimens, or about 500,000 of the earth’s 1.8 million species by the end of 2015.

Collections from everyone in society

Collections for barcode database are made from places like natural history museums, zoos, botanical gardens, and seed banks etc. The DNA markers for specimens are extracted from the tissue, replicated and then sequenced to represent the nucleic acids the sample contains. As each barcode sequence is created, it is added to the database and used to help identify unknown specimens.

And now we can all become collectors through our mobile phones and the SAP system. Say for instance you find some strange looking creepy-crawlie in your back garden and you just want to know what it is all about. All you do is upload an image to IBOL and if the species is known you will get the DNA barcode and a full presentation of all its characteristics. Cool.

Give back to business too

The interesting part for businesses is there is a an area for resource and commercialisation here too. A company may want to verify the source of the ingredients of packaged goods. The IBOL database could be used for this.

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