Using DNA Barcodes to Identify and Classify Living Things

Taxonomy, the science of classifying living things according to shared features, has a long history. 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.

With DNA barcodes, students can help discover and catalog biodiversity on our planet using tools developed at the DNA Learning Center.


Dr. Mark Stoeckle from The Rockefeller University
talks about the history of DNA barcoding.

Student Research Projects

View student research projects from Barcode Long Island, the Urban Barcode Project, and the Urban Barcode Research Program, in addition to student DNA barcoding projects conducted in China.

DNA Barcoding 101: Lab

Introduction, protocol, and supporting resources for using DNA barcoding to identify plants or animals—or products made from them.


Online tools, animations, videos, presentations, and references that support student and teacher participants.

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