Bruce Collette on building a global fish-barcode library

Scientists are working to assign barcodes to all 30,000 known fish species.

But unlike barcodes at the grocery store, these won’t give you a price. These are DNA barcodes, small, unique sections of genetic code that can be used to differentiate between species. This global project is called the Fish Barcode of Life, or FISH-BOL. It aims to create an online barcode library.

Bruce Collette: Our goal is to get five specimens of each species from each major geographic region.

That’s Bruce Collette at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington, D.C.

Bruce Collette: Various laboratories of the National Marine Fisheries Service have ships at sea collecting fishes for monitoring purposes, for estimating populations and other purposes. We just have to collect the samples to do the analysis.

The barcode library will let scientists match fish larvae to adults, identify by catch, and test fish at the market.

Bruce Collette: For example, if you go to Florida and buy a red snapper, is it really a red snapper or is it some other snapper that’s masquerading under that name? Some other species that may be lower quality or at least lower price?

Testing tissue from the alleged red snapper would yield a result in one or two days.

Bruce Collette: We’re not quite at the ‘Spock tricorder’ stage that we can point at it and identify it, but we may not be that far off.

Our thanks to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Our thanks to:
Bruce B. Collette
NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service
National Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC

July 2, 2008

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