The Code of Life has now spawned the BarCode of Life.
DNA Barcoding is a way of identifying an organism as belonging to a particular species, based on its mitochondrial DNA. Often a small section of a gene called the COI is used. Wikipedia describes its use in the identification of birds and flowering plants and the controversy that it has created amongst scientists. Some scientists “resent what they see as a gross oversimplification of the science of taxonomy”.
This week the Economist has an article entitled Taxonomy in which they tell us that “Biologists want to barcode half a million species in the next five years”. We are told that “DNA barcoding was invented by Paul Herbert” who wanted “to generate a unique identification tag for each species based on a short stretch of DNA”. The Economist uses both the noun forms (“DNA barcoding“, “DNA barcode“), and the verb forms (“to barcode“, “have barcoded“), as well as new compounds based on the DNA part being understood or assumed (“bird barcoding“, “barcode factories“).
The prestigious scientific journal “Nature”, that originally published the seminal article by Watson and Crick in 1953, tells us, intriguingly, that “DNA barcoding is no substitute for taxonomy”. (Try typing that into Google.) I say intriguingly as I cannot read any more of this article as it is hidden behind a gateway to knowledge that only “special people” have access to. (Nature has provided an open link for us all to read a contribution to the “Open Access Debate”.) Perhaps some readers of this blog will be electronicially enabled to read about the subtleties in the DNA Barcoding / Taxonomy debate and possibly even fill us in a bit about the implications of Cyber-taxonomy or Digital-taxonomy.
I associate BarCodes with Supermarkets. I wonder how long it will be until we can buy a Species Specimen and check it out at the DNA Barcoding machine. Already Barcoding is being used in the identification of flowering plants. How long until the local garden centre does a “DNA Swipe” on your geraniums?
DNA – Deoxyribonucleic Acid
From “Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” or “D.N.A.” as Watson and Crick described it in their article in Nature on April 25th 1953.
Deoxyribose refers to the fact that oxygen has been removed from the ribose sugar part of the molecule.
Wikipedia will enlighten any readers who would like to get to know others of the family of DNA related words – DNA supercoiling, DNA polymerase, DNA replication, DNA ligase, to name just a few of the compounds that this three letter acronym has spawned.
DNA is commonly known as the Double Helix of Life.
Wikipedia tells us that it is a “machine-readable representation of information”.
As it is often represented by dark lines on a light background the code is turned into visible bars, hence BarCode.