DNA Barcoding Project Targets Key Global Industries

By / 22nd of May, 2014

A NEW $2.5 million DNA barcoding project will deliver high economic value to mining, fishing and forestry industries across the globe according to a leading Australian scientist.

By fast-tracking accurate species identification, the approach will override slow and labour-intensive taxonomic methods traditionally used for monitoring plants and animals relevant to industry.

The tool will also aid environmental management and conservation across land and sea, and is being launched on 22 May, the International Day of Biodiversity.

“Around AUD$330 million return on investment would be achieved in fully developing this kind of DNA barcoding for biosecurity, conservation and rapid environmental impact assessment for Australian plant and animal species alone,” said University of Adelaide’s Professor Andrew Lowe, who is the national project leader. Prof Lowe has also developed a new tool to track climate change.

“Applied across the world, the implications are huge,” he said.

DNA barcoding works by identifying short, standardised sequences of DNA suitable to be used as a genetic label – a ‘barcode’ – for each species.

"The funding is over 18 months," he said. "During this time we hope to DNA barcode several hundred to a couple of thousand of species and develop other DNA-based resources that will help with tracking the geographic origin of key species"

Once complete, a full library of barcodes allows unknown biological samples to be quickly matched to a particular species of plant or animal.

Countries where economic impacts of the approach will be felt most strongly include China, Africa, Australia and Brazil, where mining companies are required to identify and monitor plants and animals for environmental impact assessments. 

American, European and Australian timber markets linked with furniture and construction also stand to benefit economically.

“Around 30% of the US$180 billion global logging industry is derived from unlawful sources,” said Professor Lowe.

“Europe is already applying DNA barcoding to identify the origins of wood to combat illegal logging.”

The global fishing industry also uses DNA barcoding to monitor species found in packaged seafood products and ensure sustainability requirements are met.

However to date the technology has limitations due to the incompleteness of the global DNA barcoding library.

“Of the estimated 10 million species that exist on our planet, only just over a million have so far been identified and described,” said Professor Lowe.

“This new project will get us started on the so-called ‘dark taxa’, those plants and animals that are not yet documented”.

Professor Lowe is working in partnership with scientists from Kings Park Botanic Garden, CSIRO, Australian Tropical Herbarium, the South Australian Museum, ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and WA Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Research infrastructure organisation Bioplatforms Australia is managing the project.

The project also has support from Fortescue Metals Group, the Australian Government and BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities through the Bush Blitz program, FORDA (the Indonesian Forest Research and Development Agency) and DoubleHelix Tracking Technologies.

DNA Barcodes explained for Canada by Jenny Cham.

Key contacts

Prof. Andrew Lowe Director, Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity University of Adelaide
61 434 607 705 andrew.lowe@adelaide.edu.au