Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Posted November 14, 2011 The History of Barcoding
The History of DNA Barcoding, featuring Mark Stoeckle
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The Experiment:
Using DNA Barcodes to Identify and Classify Living Things

Taxonomy, the science of classifying living things according to shared features, has always been a part of human society. Identifying organisms has grown in importance as we monitor the biological effects of global climate change and attempt to preserve species diversity in the face of accelerating habitat destruction. Less than two million of the estimated 5-50 million plant and animal species have been identified. Classical taxonomy falls short in this race to catalog biological diversity before it disappears.

Now, DNA barcodes allow non-experts to objectively identify species – even from small, damaged, or industrially processed material. Just as the unique pattern of bars in a universal product code (UPC) identifies each consumer product, a "DNA barcode" is a unique pattern of DNA sequence that identifies each living thing. Short DNA barcodes, about 700 nucleotides in length, can be quickly processed from thousands of specimens and unambiguously analyzed by computer programs.


The Urban Barcode Project (UBP) is a science competition spanning the five boroughs of New York City made possible by funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. In the project, student research teams in grades 9–12 sponsored by a qualifying science teacher or mentor use DNA barcoding to explore biodiversity in NYC. Teams have free access to everything needed for their DNA barcode experiments, including equipment, protocols, and reagents for DNA extraction, PCR, and DNA sequencing.

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