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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 Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Department of Botany Plant DNA Barcode Group is collaborating with the Center for Tropical Forest Science/Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory on an initiative to generate DNA barcodes for the trees found in their forest dynamics plots. The project will eventually generate DNA barcodes for the over 8,500 species of trees recorded from the plots. The main goals are to provide genetic identifiers for each species, test species boundaries, assist in identifying new species, provide a tool for ecological forensic applications, and generate testable phylogenetic hypotheses for the tree communities. The Smithsonian PIs are seeking collaborations with local plot PIs to initiate barcoding activities worldwide.

This website provides more information on the basic DNA barcoding protocol for forest dynamics plots: http://botany.si.edu/projects/dnabarcode/

Questions should be addressed to:
  • Caroline Puente, puentec@si.edu, Manager, Plant DNA Barcode Project, NMNH Department of Botany, Washington, DC
  • W. John Kress, kressj@si.edu, Director, Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet and NMNH Department of Botany Curator and Research Scientist, Washington, DC
  • Ida Lopez, lopezi@si.edu, Museum Specialist, NMNH Department of Botany, Washington, DC