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  Yahoo News 19 Sep 07
Scientists aim to barcode world's species
by Benjamin Yeh

Yahoo News 15 Sep 07
Agencies work on DNA 'barcodes' database
By John Heilprin, Associated Press Writer

Yahoo News 15 Sep 07
Genetic "barcodes" may cut illegal trade
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

New genetic tests could help crack down on illegal food or timber trade, fight malaria or even give clues to how to stop bird strikes with planes, scientists said on Friday.

Experts have identified DNA "barcodes" -- named after the black and white lines that identify products in a supermarket -- of more than 31,000 species of animals and plants against 12,700 species in 2005 in a fast-growing branch of science.

"We're building up a reference library of species," said David Schindel of the U.S. Smithsonian Institution who is executive secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life. About 350 barcode experts will meet from September 18-20 in Taipei.

A snippet of genetic material, such as a sliver of fish or sawdust from a plank of wood, can help identity a species by a DNA "barcode" unique to each species in a laboratory process taking a few hours and costing about $2.

Barcoding experts are working with regulators such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to seek applications for the database such as curbing illegal imports, fighting mosquitoes or helping understand bird migration routes.

Barcoding could help, for instance, identify a tiny worm on a shipment of bananas and so settle a dispute about whether it was a harmless pest just picked up at the port of entry or a more dangerous imported species.

The FDA warned in May that a shipment labeled monkfish from China might contain a type of puffer fish that can contain a deadly toxin if badly prepared. "Barcoding could help identify the fish quickly," Schindel said.


The same could apply to checking whether a wooden table, for instance, was from an endangered hardwood species. "Once a tree has been cut up into boards it's very hard to identify .... without the branches, roots and bark it's very hard to identify," Schindel told Reuters. "Barcoding can help."

"This has not gone to a court of law yet but in the next year or two I think we will see more and more cases where barcoding has provided the smoking pistol," he said.

Proper identification of mosquitoes could help slow the spread of malaria, which kills a million people a year, by enabling scientists to pick the right insecticides.

"Key to disease management is vector control," said Yvonne-Marie Linton of the Natural History Museum, London. She said in a statement that misidentification of species often hampered controls.

And proper identification of dead birds after collisions with aircraft could help avoid future strikes. "Knowing which birds are most often struck and the timing, altitude and routes of their migrations, could avert some of the thousands of annual collisions," said Carla Dove of the Smithsonian.

The scientists hope to identify 500,000 species in coming years.

So far the databases are far from complete -- with about 20 percent of the world's 10, 000 species of birds and 10 percent of the estimated 35,000 marine and freshwater fishes. Extracting DNA barcodes from plants is proving harder than for animals.

Yahoo News 15 Sep 07
Agencies work on DNA 'barcodes' database
By John Heilprin, Associated Press Writer

To help shoppers avoid mislabeled toxic pufferfish and pilots steer clear of birds, federal agencies are starting to tap into an ambitious project that is gathering DNA " barcodes" for the Earth's 1.8 million known species.

A consortium of scientists from almost 50 nations is overseeing the building of a global database made from tiny pieces of genetic material.

Called DNA barcoding, the process takes a scientist only a few hours in a lab and about $2 to identify a species from a tissue sample or other piece of genetic material.

David Schindel, a Smithsonian Institution paleontologist and executive secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, said the purpose is to create a global reference library — "a kind of telephone directory for all species."

"If I know that gene sequence, I can submit it as a query to a database and get back the telephone number," he said. "I can get back the species name."

The government's interest in the project stems from a variety of possible uses. The Food and Drug Administration has begun eyeing it as a tool to ferret out hazardous fish species and to confirm a type of leech used in some surgery.

In May, the FDA used it to warn that a shipment labeled monkfish from China might actually be a type of pufferfish that could contain a deadly toxin if not prepared properly.

The Federal Aviation Administration and Air Force hope it will help them identify birds prone to collide with aircraft. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sees it as a means to track commercial fish and reduce killing of unwanted species also caught by nets.

A growing collection of feathers and other remains of birds that collided with planes has provided "operational" information for the FAA, said Scott Miller, a scientist at the Smithsonian Institution who chairs the consortium's executive committee.

"They have an almost complete reference database for the North American bird species," Miller said. "It is a routine tool that they use."

Elsewhere, the Environmental Protection Agency is testing species barcoding to identify insects and other invertebrates that indicate how healthy rivers and streams are. The Agriculture Department is contributing genetic data it has compiled on fruit flies in an effort help farmers control pests.

Among the agencies experimenting with the database, EPA has found that as it grows in size it is becoming "more and more useful as a practical tool for identifying species," EPA spokeswoman Jessica Emond said.

Scientists call it barcodes to compare it to the supermarket scanner codes that are indecipherable except to machines. But with plants and animals, the scanners look at the specific order of the four basic building blocks of DNA to identify the species.

Users gain free access to a repository of archival genetic material run jointly by U.S., European and Japanese facilities.

About 30,000 species have been logged in the database so far, but scientists hope to reach 500,000 within five years. A two-year goal is to have sequenced 2,800 — or about 80 percent — of the 3,500 different species of mosquitoes.

Yvonne-Marie Linton of the Natural History Museum in London, said efforts to reduce mosquito populations blamed for up to 500 million human malaria cases and 1 million annual deaths each year are consistently hindered by misidentifying the species responsible.

Linton, who heads a project to barcode the mosquito species, said correctly identifying and controlling those carriers of malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue fever and the West Nile virus are the "key to disease management."

Miller said barcoding is "basically going to revolutionize the way that mosquito survey and monitoring is done."

The consortium is sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History. It grew out of 2003 research paper in which geneticist Paul Hebert at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, proposed a database of DNA barcodes for identifying all species. Now, the Smithsonian and university share in the barcoding work.

On the Net: Consortium for the Barcode of Life: http://barcoding.si.edu
Barcode of Life Initiative: http://www.dnabarcodes.org

Yahoo News 19 Sep 07
Scientists aim to barcode world's species
by Benjamin Yeh

A group of Canadian scientists is working on an ambitious project to create a global database of up to half a million of the world's species using DNA barcoding technology.

The scientists are hoping to raise 150 million dollars to fund an initial five-year stage of what they describe as the biodiversity equivalent of launching a rocket to the moon.

DNA barcoding, a technique for characterising a species using only a short DNA sequence, has wide-ranging implications for health and the environment. It could help remove illegal fish and timber supplies from global markets, get rid of pests such as mosquitoes and even reduce the numbers of collisions between birds and planes.

Paul Hebert, head of the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding, is spearheading the plan. "We're now trying to launch in Canada the International Barcode of Life Project, which has a five-year life span," Hebert told AFP at a three-day seminar on DNA in Taipei. "We hope to put 150 million US dollars into this through a 25-nation alliance."

"The idea is collectively we would gather five million specimens and 500,000 species within that five-year period," Hebert added, saying the entire project could take 15 years.

The seminar in Taipei has brought together 350 scientists from 45 countries to debate the "barcoding of life" concept. Scientists estimate that while nearly 1.8 million species have already been identified, there may be another 10 million that are not known.

But DNA barcoding technology has progressed so rapidly that scientists predict science fiction-style powers to recognise previously unfamiliar creatures could become reality in a decade.

"Like in the film of Star Trek, anything scanned by such devices could display its image, name and function," said Allen Chen from Taiwan's Academia Sinica. "This could be done 10 years from now after a global barcoding data bank is set up," said Chen, an expert in corals.

Scientists are already working on hand-held barcoders that would enable users to access a barcode data bank using a global positioning system, said Taiwan's Shao Kwang-tsao, one of the conference chairs.

Hebert said the alliance would invest heavily in the development of such technology. This week's conference is being held by the Washington-based Consortium for the Barcode of Life, which was set up in 2003 in response to Hebert's initiative and now includes some 160 organisations.

Among them is Taiwan's top academic body, Academia Sinica, one of three chief organisers of the conference. At its first conference in London in 2005, the consortium's data banks collected some 33,000 DNA references belonging to some 12,700 species.

Today it counts more than 290,000 DNA samples from some 31,000 species, including about 20 percent of the world's estimated 10,000 bird species and 10 percent of the 35,000 estimated marine and freshwater fish species.

The "barcoding of life" projects have drawn increasing attention, particularly from the US, Canada and Europe, as scientists explore the technique's applications, which range from food safety and consumer protection to the identification of herbal plants.

One British scientist is working on a project to barcode 2,800 species of mosquito, or 80 percent of those known to the world, within two years. The project is aimed at reducing the scourge of malaria, which infects some 500 million people a year and is spread by some mosquitoes.

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