Making every species count

September 21, 2015

DNA barcoding is the use of short stretches if DNA to identify species. Making reliable and rapid species identification is essential to combating many of the threats facing our environment.

The Challenge

  • Climate change, invasive species migration and globalization of trade threaten ecosystems and biodiversity around the world
  • Pest damage to agricultural crops costs farmers the equivalent of billions of dollars each year, and leads to food shortage

The Research Solution

  • Dr. Paul Hebert’s International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project is working towards cataloging the world’s biodiversity by building a DNA barcode database
  • With research teams in 25 countries across the globe, Dr. Hebert is aiming to build a public resource with DNA barcodes from five million speciments representing at least 500,000 species over five years

How DNA barcoding will impact our world

New practical applications are constantly emerging, indicating limitless potential for iBOL’s growing digital reference library of DNA barcodes to impact on the way we live and interact with the world around us:

  • The ability to identify mosquitoes will help public health authorities to control the spread of diseases like the West Nile virus, malaria and yellow fever
  • Border control officials will be able to spot invasive species and fight the trade in endangered plants and animals
  • Early identification and control of invasive species will save the forestry and agricultural industries billions in lost production
  • Health care workers will be able to identify and control the organisms that make us sick as well as the vectors that spread disease
  • Animal feed will be tested for banned substances such as those that cause diseases like BSE
  • Water authorities will be able to monitor the health of our oceans, lakes and rivers, and the quality of our drinking water
  • Consumers will be able to check fish and other food products to ensure that what they are buying is what is advertised

Successes to date

  • Nearly ¾ of a million DNA barcodes sequenced worldwide to date
  • Dr. Hebert and his team at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario are recognized as world-leaders in DNA barcoding

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To read more about barcoding, visit