Scientists are building a DNA library of the entire planet, a vast index of everything that's alive (including some things that might soon not be). But a recent study cautions researchers to be careful, as a scanning mistake here could have more severe consequences than getting overcharged at the checkout.
The International Barcode of Life is a proposal to index every singe organism utterly and unequivocally (they've got nearly half a million already) - instead of depending on ornithologist's arguments about exactly what constitutes a certain type of beak, every lifeform would be indexed according to a specified section of DNA. Just as you don't need to read an entire book to tell it apart from others, these DNA barcodes would be shorter than (but just as unique to the lifeform as) the full DNA sequence.
Plus you don't need the whole animal to do it, which is an ecological plus - a small skin, spit or stalk sample will be enough for identification. Killing endangered species to record them would kind of miss the point. With an established global effort, this ID-process would be cheaper and available to far more researchers worldwide, enabling entirely new investigations in the ecosphere.
But a study at the Brigham Young University warns that when you're typing in the Index of Everything, you want to be careful with that keypad. Existing techniques which target agreed on sections of mitochondrial DNA can be misled by broken sections of nucleus material, leading to misidentification of new species.
With the flaw highlighted (and over a hundred and fifty million dollars earmarked for the project), it should soon be fixed. Good - we'd hate to think that excitement over entirely new lifeforms was due to an input error.
Posted by Luke McKinney.
Related Galaxy posts:
Is Growth of Cities Accelerating the Planet's Bioversity Crisis? -A Galaxy Classic
The Earth's 6th Great Mass Extinction is Occurring as You Read This
Bigger Threat Than Global Warming: Mass Species Extinction
Urban Life -An Organism "Beyond the Bounds of Biology"
Dr Strangelove Two? -Cambridge Astrophysicist Gives Earthlings a 50/50 Chance of Making it Through the Century
A Post-Human Future: Are Humans the Limit of Evolutionary Complexity? A Galaxy Classic
Homo Urbanus - For the 1st Time in Human History the City Dominates
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Scientists Building a DNA Library of Entire Planet -a Vast Index of Everything Alive: