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Bar Code of Life: DNA Tags Help Classify Animals

Inspired by commercial bar codes, DNA tags could provide a quick, See Inside inexpensive way to identify species
By Mark Y. Stoeckle and Paul D. N. Hebert

Wandering the aisles of a supermarket several years ago, one of us (Hebert) marveled at how the store could keep track of the array of merchandise simply by examining the varying order of thick and thin lines that make up a products barcode. Why, he mused, couldnt the unique ordering of the four nucleic acids in a short strand of DNA be mined in a similar way to identify the legions of species on earth? Ever since Carl Linnaeus began systematically classifying all living things 250 years ago, biologists have looked at various featurescolor, shape, even behaviorto identify

Amadeo Bachar

animals and plants. In the past few decades, researchers have begun to apply the genetic information in DNA to the task. But both classical and modern genetic methods demand great expertise and eat up huge amounts of time. Using just a small section of the DNAsomething more akin to the 12-digit barcode on productswould require far less time and skill.

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