The International Barcode of Life Project (iBOL), which says it is the world's first reference library of DNA barcodes and the world's largest biodiversity genomics project, is being built by scientists using fragments of DNA to create a database of all life forms.
"What we're trying to do is to create this global library of DNA barcodes -- snippets, little chunks of DNA -- that permit us to identify species," Alex Smith, assistant professor of molecular ecology at the University of Guelph's Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, about 90 km (56 miles) west of Toronto.
So far DNA barcoding has helped identify the type of birds that forced last year's emergency landing of a flight on the Hudson River in New York. The researchers also discovered nearly one in four fish fillets are mislabeled in North America after referring to the library, which has 7,000 species of fish DNA barcodes, allowing the scientists to identify fillets that have been stripped of scales, skins and heads.
To get the barcodes, scientists use a short section of DNA extracted from a standardized region of tissue. Once the barcode is created, it's filed in the iBOL library.
Within a week, the barcode can be viewed publicly, online, by signing up for a free account at www.boldsystems.org, the site for Barcode of Life Datasystems (BOLD). Smith describes it as being like a label on a filing cabinet.
Just as the barcode scanner at a grocery store can identify lettuce, milk or steak, the DNA barcode sequence can be used to identify different species so that anyone who isn't a specialist -- from an elementary school student to a border patrol inspector -- can identify the species, once technology to read the library is available.