Thursday, June 2, 2011

DNA Barcoding Captures International Headlines

GUELPH, Ontario June 01, 2011 - University of Guelph News Release

Prof. Paul Hebert has been featured in media across the globe for his work in DNA barcoding.

DNA barcoding is a molecular technique developed by the integrative biology professor that allows scientists to match up barcodes from specimens of unknown identity to those derived from expert-identified reference specimens.

Hebert was highlighted in a story in Tuesday's Globe and Mail discussing how DNA barcoding is being used to trace the origin of food and food contaminants.

The article focuses on how Hebert, who is the scientific director of the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project at U of G, has used DNA barcoding to solve all kinds of food mysteries from the mislabeling of fish sold in restaurants and supermarkets to pinpointing the source of certain contaminants found in food on the production line. The article also states that while discovering the source of contaminants allows manufacturers and retailers to determine who’s liable, the applications of genetic tracing for busting food fraud and alleviating consumer fears are possibly even greater.

Hebert says the biggest users of the technology so far have been wholesalers and retailers, consumer interest groups and journalists.

Hebert and DNA barcoding were also featured in the New York Times recently. The story is focused on using the technology to uncover the mislabeling of fish sold in restaurants and supermarkets.

Using the new genetic techniques, the gene sequence found in a fish sample is compared with an electronic reference library like that maintained by iBOL, which now covers 8,000 varieties of fish compiled by biologists over the last five years. iBOL involves more than 100 researchers from 25 countries who are working towards creating the world’s first reference library of DNA barcodes for use in species identification around the globe. The goal of the project is to barcode five million of the world’s specimens over the next five years in order to allow researchers to match up unknown species, including fish.

In the article, Hebert explains that this new type of scrutiny could allow hundreds of thousands of fish samples to be tested each year, rather than the hundreds that are now rigorously analyzed.

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