Scientists are working on projects for sequencing DNA
Butterflies, plants and whale sharks, like the consumables in a supermarket, could soon be identified with a bar code scanner.
Scientists are working on projects for sequencing the DNA of a wide variety of trees, fish and animals as part of a project for bar coding life.
The researchers of the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) Peechi, Thrissur, are working on projects to barcode oak leaf butterflies (satyrid butterflies) and plants belonging to the genus dalbergia, which include rosewood. The identification using bar code readers would be possible for the species for which the DNA has been sequenced. Once the sequence of a species is obtained, it can be compared with the available sequences to ascertain the species.
The bar coding would be helpful in identifying the species from even a tiny bit of tissue. It will also serve as a quick, cheap and unambiguous means of distinguishing between species, according to researchers.
The technique has a wide range of application in forensic science, fighting bio-piracy, studying the feeding habits of animals and identification of spurious herbs used in ayurvedic medicines, said K.V. Sankaran, Director, KFRI. The KFRI is planning to network with the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, USA, for developing a global standard for species identification, he said.
There are around 30 species of satyrid butterflies in the Kerala region of Western Ghats and most of them exhibit morphological variations in various geographical locations rendering their identification difficult. The DNA bar coding of the species will help correct this, said George Mathew, who leads the research team.
"We will be looking for genetic variations within the species at different geographical locations as well as the phylogenetic (the evolutionary development of organisms) relationships between various species. This will help us in obtaining a better understanding of the group and its ecological adaptations. This information could be used for evolving conservation measures for various species," Dr. Mathew said.
The Institute has partnered with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, for the butterfly project.
The dalbergia family consists of three trees and nine climbers whose flowers and leaves look alike. Only kariveeti and veeti in the family are commercially important ones, said M. Balasundaram, the project leader.
The National Institute of Plan Genome Research, New Delhi, and the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, are the other two agencies involved in the project.
The DNA sequences of species will be there in the public domain which could also be used as geographical indicators. They also serve as the biodiversity reference data of an area, said Dr. Balasundaram.
The Kochi regional centre of the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Research, Lucknow, had bar-coded Whale Sharks and fish varieties like Yellow Catfish, Manjakoori, Thooli and Denisoni, an endemic ornamental fish known as Miss Kerala.