Creating an inventory of all living things on Earth
DNA Barcodes, Biodiversity and You
We're going down to molecular resolution.
If you could identify any organism on the planet right now, what would it be? That world is upon us. Barcoding life: Enabling the discrimination of species by analysis of a short fragment of DNA.
Taxonomy: the world's oldest profession. Genesis 2:19. and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was their name thereof.
In the 18th C modern taxonomy was born. Linnaeus described 4,000 species in 1748. 100 years later, Darwin came to the conclusion that all species are related to each other. We try to assemble classifications based on their common ancestry.
The sum total of what we know: traditional morphological descriptions in museums.
We know an awful lot about biodiversity, but it's not accessible to you and I. It's inaccessible in the field, and to you and I, and that makes us bio-illiterate.
Having bioliteracy might help us and the way we respond to nature.
Our planet is home to some 10-100 million species, but the best human can id only 1000.
Imagine if you could id any species and Google it.
This is one of the grand challenges of biology.
Known biodiversity is 1.7 million species of plants and animals. Estimated biodiversity is 10 million to 100 million species.
We need to accelerate the rate at which we describe and understand species. This is a grand challenge.
Idea: Use DNA sequence data for horizontal genomics: take one gene and compare across all species.
You can develop a barcode. Use differences in nucleotides to id differences across barcoding.
They focus on DNA in mitochondria. In there, they use one gene: the CO1 gene. But CO1 doesn't evolve fast enough to be used for plants, but it is a good marker for animals.
There is basically no variation in humans across this gene, but deep difference between us and the other apes, and the apes themselves.
For example, one butterfly known since the 18th century turned out to be 10 species, based on their DNA. But no one knew for 100s of years. How many others are there out in the world?
Right now, barcoding takes lab work to sequence the DNA. Then it's added to a database with lots of other information about the species.
What is the most important biomedical device? He thinks it's the telephone. Now that we can call anyone anywhere in the world, why can't we do the same for biodiversity? Create portable DNA barcoder. Should be technologically feasible.
FAA is interested in barcodes b/c of bird strikes in planes. Costs industry 400 million a year.
Another is to monitor cattle feed for BSE
Another is to understand invasive species, fish larval stocks (to track depleting populations)
International trade: The Pine beetle is expected to cost Canada $1.5 billion over 10 years. Is invasive species.
What we need is DNA search engine. We need miniaturization of DNA technology. 1 minute, 1 sequence, 1 name, 1 penny.
We must find entrepreneurial class of people who will launch this.
We must make the world bioliterate, to distribute this technology to the world, to democratize access to the biological world.