Friday, December 12, 2014

DNA Barcoding Helps Researchers Understand Marine Mammal Stranding

DNA barcoding is a taxonomic method that uses a short genetic marker in an organism's DNA to identify it as belonging to a particular species.

Before the advent of DNA barcoding researchers had to rely solely on these morphological measurements (size, shape, and/or color of specific body parts) to identify a species. Degraded specimens could not be identified. It was not until 2003 that Paul Hebert proposed DNA barcoding as a way to identify animals without using measurements.

The concept of DNA barcoding is similar to how barcodes are used in a store. Unidentifiable by the untrained eye, barcodes tell the cashier what the product is. This is similar to DNA barcoding except the store is the entire world and the amount of barcoded animals, plants, and fungi contained within the world are over 200,000.

However, with any information repository, obtaining the information itself is only a small part of the story. What makes this information useful is how people are able to use it and apply it in the world.

Researchers in France are monitoring biodiversity by using DNA barcoding to identify deceased stranded marine mammals which are too decomposed or rare to be identified by conventional means such as morphological measurements (see below). The majority of stranded mammals these researchers look at are still composed enough to be identified, but DNA barcoding comes into play for the 17% that cannot be identified. They hope that with the data they are gathering can help prevent additional marine mammals from dying because of becoming stranded.

by Kyle H.


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