Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A barcode for every living thing

Name, rank and serial number
Biologists want to barcode half a million species in the next five years

Sep 20th 2007

THE tale of the unknown goby began in 1982 when Benjamin Victor, of the Ocean Science Foundation in Irvine, California, discovered an unusual fish in a reef in Panama. With only a single specimen he was hard pressed to prove it was a new species, so the fish remained, unnamed, on his desk for 25 years. Then, last year, he was sent an unusual fish larva. Using a new kind of DNA identification called barcoding he showed that it was a younger version of his mystery goby and that both specimens were, indeed, a new species. (more here)

This week an article about a huge project to barcode living species. According to one of those involved in the piece, Dr Baxter, several people have emailed saying I've over-egged things somewhat by describing Dr Hebert as having invented barcoding. This is, apparently, like "crediting Mr Kipling with inventing cakes: he didn't invent it but popularised it". That may be a fair criticism. But in my defense I would say Dr Hebert did identify a pretty neat gene to do the animal barcoding which has really led barcoding to take off.