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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: October 15, 2012 NO. 42 OCTOBER 18, 2012
Species Scanning
China collaborates with the international community to advance DNA barcoding
By Tang Yuankai

NO MISTAKES ALLOWED: A scientist in Yichang, Hubei Province, detects a DNA sequence of a type of rice seed (HUANG XIANG)

We're all familiar with the black-and-white barcodes on supermarket items, which are like identity cards for the products. By scanning these barcodes, we can easily find out the product's name, price, ingredients and location of production.

Consumer barcodes have given scientists inspiration and they are striving to adopt similar technology to identify the world's various species. Quietly, a scientific revolution is underway.

Engaging DNA

In the near future, it is quite possible that one could bring a tiny barcode scanner along identify any species for its name, genus and related information.

If bitten by a mosquito or unknown bug, a quick scan could let you know if you've been infected with a virus. What the device in fact does is to scan the species' "DNA barcode." This new technology provides rapid and accurate species identification through analyzing standard gene fragments. It has quickly become one of the fastest-growing topics in the field of biology.

China has embraced the development of such DNA technology over the last few years. In mid-August, the launching ceremony of the Research and Demonstrative Application of Medical Vector DNA Barcode Detection Technology was held in Zhongshan, south China's Guangdong Province.

This project is one of China's key 12th Five-Year (2011-15) national science and technology development projects. It was initiated by General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. The Central Government has allocated a special fund of 26.14 million yuan ($4.14 million) to the project. The project aims to break through the technical bottlenecks in the sorting and confirming of different groups of DNA barcodes through research.

DNA barcoding serves many useful purposes. For instance, it can quickly identify prohibited species that find their way onto import and export containers, thereby preventing the spread of deadly infectious diseases across borders.

On May 29, Chairman of the International Barcode of Life Project (iBOL) Pete Hollingsworth and head of Kunming Institute of Botany of Chinese Academy of Sciences (KIB of CAS) Li Dezhu signed a memorandum of cooperation between iBOL and China. Li is also the representative of the iBOL's Chinese Committee. The iBOL is the largest biodiversity genomic initiative in the world and was launched by Paul Hebert, known as the father of the DNA barcode.

iBOL's goal is to obtain DNA barcode records of 5 million specimens within five years, and to establish universal experimental standards as well as a data platform that is easy to use.

China now has more than 70 research institutions engaged in further developing the DNA barcode. The Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Natural Science Foundation and the CAS have jointly funded more than 50 projects, with a total funding of more than 120 million yuan ($18.98 million).

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