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Taxonomy and the DNA Barcoding Enterprise

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Abstract

DNA Barcoding is elusive to many taxonomists. Like the numbers in a barcode, barcoding attempts to link a type specimen with a part of its DNA, most commonly from the mitochondrial Cytochrome c Oxidase subunit I (COI) gene. Imagine a sequence of nucleotide DNA common in every organism, which has enough differences to distinguish the code of one type specimen from another. Take a sample from the type specimen of every known species and add them to a database. The result, a inventory of COI genes, can be accessed at anytime to identify specimens, either in the field or in the lab. For many, this sounds too good to be true. Apart from the practical aspects of extracting DNA from organisms in the field, the cost and the problems associated with a limited taxonomic key based on a limited number of genes, barcoding is not something that would attract taxonomists or even amateur enthusiasts (e.g., bird watchers) (Ebach & Holdrege, 2005a,b). Taxonomists are trained to identify as well as describe organisms through observation and have little use for barcodes. Birdwatchers, who take great pleasure in being able to identify birds without a field guide, would be horrified at distressing birds through capturing, handling and extracting DNA (contra Janzen, 2010). Who, then, would embrace DNA barcoding? DNA barcoders have no trouble in telling us the multitude of uses of barcodes. Ranging from identifying the sources of food substitution or contamination, the presence of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), to the types of birds that end up minced in jet engines (Wong & Hanner 2008; Grant 2007). There is no doubt that these are incredibly valuabl

Year: 2013
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