Tired of having to identify new species of fish the old fashioned way - by looking at it - scientists are trying a new method of taxonomy: barcoding them!
Okay, okay - I was being cheeky. But this is actually quite cool: FISH-BOL, the global Fish Barcode of Life Initiative is an on-going effort to compile a database of DNA barcodes of all marine species in the world:
"Even though several million species of plants, animals and microbes have been identified over the past 300 years or so, we still find new species,” Collette says. “And despite advances in technology, we still have to sort organisms into piles and research every known bit of information before we can say we found a new species. Sometimes we have to go back to the basics and look at an organism in a jar for reference to make a determination.”
Scientists like Collette often go to sea and collect dozens of samples of an organism they think might be a new species. They return to the lab to sort out what they have collected before focusing in on the details to determine exactly what the organism is, sharing samples with colleagues to reach a consensus. The process takes time, and they are excited about the contributions FISH-BOL and other similar efforts around the world will make to documenting and understanding life forms on earth.
After decades of following similar taxonomic procedures often done by visual identification, DNA bar-coding offers a new and much faster, more accurate way to identify species and share information. Since nearly all biological species have distinct gene sequences, they can be identified using a short gene sequence collected from a standardized position in the genome – a DNA barcode. Bar-coding of animals relies on differences between species in a relatively short segment of mitochondrial DNA.