DNA Day experts answer your questions about taxonomy and DNA barcoding

Do hospitals DNA barcode babies when they're born?

No, hospitals do not barcode babies. In fact, in DNA barcoding (the gene they use to do this in the BARCODE of life project) would be the same for all human beings. This gene just differentiates various eukaryotic species.

- Answer provided by Dr. Dennis McCormac

What are some really practical applications of DNA barcoding? Do Canadian regulatory agencies routinely use any of these applications?

DNA barcoding has lots of practical applications and I just organized a meeting in Ottawa yesterday to discuss them with scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and others. They are very interested in using barcoding to identify quarantine and invasive species that impact international trade.

- Answer provided by Dr. Robert Hanner

What is DNA barcoding?

As the name implies, DNA barcoding is a set of genes that scientists have agreed upon to be used to identify one species from another. Typically, this set is short and is of a consensus sequence (a sequence that species share) that has specific variations that are unique within the species. This can help scientists identify a particular species quickly in a database. For more information, you should check out this website: http://barcoding.si.edu/dnabarcoding.htm

- Answer provided by Ethan Yang

What is DNA Barcoding?

DNA barcoding is a tool for species identification and discovery that relies on the sequence variation of short, standardized gene regions to tell species apart.

- Answer provided by Dr. Robert Hanner

What processes do they use in order to obtain the DNA code from the genetic material in DNA Barcoding?

DNA can be extracted using a variety of protocols, once isolated, we use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to copy/amplify the 'barcode' region of the species in question (e.g. the 5' end of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I gene in animals) and use Sanger sequencing to 'read' the ~ 650 base pair barcode sequence.

- Answer provided by Dr. Robert Hanner

Genetically, what is the animal that is closest to us homo sapiens?

For extant animals, the great apes (the ones without tails). For any animals, probably extinct ones like Neanderthals, since there is compelling genetic evidence now of genetic intermingling between the first wave of "out of Africa" humanoids with the second wave of modern "out of Africa" humans.

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon

Does species identification matter?

Yes, species identification matters for many reasons... taxonomy is the language we use to communicate about species and if we get the names wrong, our ability to communicate about species is compromised. Beyond academic considerations, species identification matters for legal reasons too. For example, we need to be able to accurately identify endangered species in the market place if we are to prosecute poachers, etc.

- Answer provided by Dr. Robert Hanner

If humans and another species share similar traits, such as opposable thumbs, is that caused by similar genes or are there other factors that could result in the similarity?

Both can be true. Most of the traits common to mammals for example are due to having a common ancestor (and therefore similar genes called homologs). Sometimes though, traits evolve independently in multiple lineages (often called analogs).

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon

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