In DepthBiodiversity

DNA barcodes jump-start search for new species

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Science  07 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6444, pp. 920-921
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6444.920

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For centuries biologists have identified new species at a painstakingly slow pace, describing specimens' physical features and other defining traits, and often trying to fit a species into the tree of life before naming and publishing it. Now, they have begun to determine whether a specimen is likely a novel species in hours, at a cost of pennies. It's a revolution driven by short stretches of DNA—dubbed barcodes in a nod to the familiar product identifiers—that vary just enough between species to provide a unique marker, combined with fast, cheap DNA sequencers. An international consortium is launching a $180 million global effort to identify more than 10 million new species of multicellular creatures. Smaller teams are also adopting the approach to comb samples for new species in their labs—or even directly in the field. With the world losing species faster than they are discovered, biologists are welcoming the technology.