The Global Risks Report 2020 from the World Economic Forum ranked biodiversity loss as one of the top five threats confronting humanity. Stemming this loss requires understanding how species interact and respond to changes in their environment, but this is impossible to accomplish with traditional morphological methods. DNA barcoding first emerged 15 years ago as a rapid, accurate way to discriminate species based on the sequence characterization of short segments of DNA. The International Barcode of Life Consortium, led by the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at Guelph, involves research organizations in 40 nations which share the goal of cataloging all species and establishing a global biosurveillance system before mid-century.
Its current research program, BIOSCAN, is harnessing new technologies to make DNA barcoding faster and less expensive, advances that will broaden its application. Importantly, the technologies normally used to sequence whole genomes can be employed to gather DNA barcodes from thousands of specimens at a time. BIOSCAN–Canada is a core component of this global effort; its work will increase the cost effectiveness of DNA-based identification systems while also providing new biodiversity data with direct relevance to Canadians. For example, new species will be revealed from under-explored regions such as the Arctic and the ocean floor off British Columbia. DNA barcoding will also be used to illuminate interactions among species, such as which flowers a bee visited, and to track the shifting distributions of species in response to environmental change at previously impossible scales. Through community engagement, BIOSCAN–Canada will incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into an accounting method for “natural capital” that extends beyond conventional economic metrics like the GDP.
By combining genomics-based biodiversity data with this accounting system, it will enable effective, timely environmental impact assessments and policymaking for the forestry, mining, and agricultural sectors as well as for conservation planning. Through such action, BIOSCAN–Canada will slow biodiversity loss, improve Indigenous relations through consultation, increase the sustainability of our agricultural and forestry sectors, and strengthen Canada’s leadership in global conservation efforts.