TORONTO — Scientists are hoping advanced handheld technology will accelerate a project to compile genetic information in a global database that would distinguish plant and animal species the way retail barcodes identify the products on store shelves.
Researchers from Canada and around the world
are participating in a consortium called the Barcode of Life, which aims to create and manage a repository of DNA sequences. A recently developed technique analyzes tissue samples about the size of a housefly’s leg to find a series of “”base pairs”” of DNA that is unique to each species. By codifying the various life forms, scientists say they could become more adept at stopping the spread of emerging diseases, pinpoint the ingredients in feed stock that leads to Mad Cow disease and possibly combat bioterrorism.
In a recent lecture hosted at the University of Toronto by the Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science, University of Guelph professor Paul Hebert said the U.S. military is working on sequencing applications that can be used on a handheld DNA barcode reader. The devices will amplify tissue samples fed into them for inspection.
“”Kids are going to start getting these in their (Christmas) stocking,”” he joked, pointing to a picture of a small device about the size of a BlackBerry pager with a hole for inserting tissue. “”They’ll go in their back yards, get some samples and then run to the Internet to see what they are.””