Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

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Dept. of Botany
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barcoded leaves
A taxonomic impediment for many systematists, field ecologists, and evolutionary biologists is determining the correct identification of a plant or animal sample in a rapid, repeatable, and reliable fashion.  This problem was a major reason for the development of a new method for the quick identification of any species based on extracting a DNA sequence from a tiny tissue sample of any organism.   DNA barcode consists of a standardized short sequence of DNA between 400 and 800 base pairs long that in theory can be easily isolated and characterized for all species on the planet.  By harnessing advances in molecular genetics, sequencing technology, and bioinformatics, DNA barcoding is allowing users to quickly and accurately recognize known species and retrieve information about them.  It also has the potential to speed the discovery of the thousands of species yet to be named.  DNA barcoding has become a vital new tool for taxonomists who are charged with the inventory and management of the Earth’s immense and changing biodiversity. 

The concept of a universally recoverable segment of DNA that can be applied as an identification marker across species was initially applied to animals with the Cytochrome C Oxidase 1 or CO1 gene region.  After several broad screenings of gene regions in the plant genome, three plastid (rbcL, matK, and trnH-psbA) and one nuclear (ITS) gene regions have become the standard barcode of choice in most investigations for plants.

The NMNH Plant DNA Barcode Project is exploring the development of new tools and applications for DNA barcoding.  This website gives background and information on standard plant barcoding protocols used in these studies.

Questions should be addressed to:

Craig Costion, PhD.,, Manager, Plant DNA Barcode Project, NMNH Department of Botany, Washington, DC.

W. John Kress,, Distinguished Scientist and Curator of Botany, NMNH Department of Botany, Washington, DC.

Ida Lopez,, Museum Specialist, NMNH Department of Botany, Washington, DC.

Julia Steier,, Project Technician, NMNH Department of Botany, Washington, DC.

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