The bar code, a single gene that varies slightly from species to species, could pave the way for portable handheld gene sequencers that would enable scientists in the field to quickly scan for species' near-unique bar codes.
The bar-code gene is called cytochrome c oxidase 1, or co1. Every creature's co1 gene is different--Hebert's research shows that the gene's variations distinguish among species with 99.9999 percent accuracy. Hebert's co1 bar-coding system would transform traditional taxonomy, the age-old, painstaking science of finding and naming living things. As the number of qualified taxonomists dwindles almost as fast as the populations of some endangered species, a DNA-based approach would surely re-energize the field. "With a bar-coding system in place," Hebert notes, "we wouldn't have to rely exclusively on taxonomy experts."