The Barcoding Landscape
As a research initiative, DNA barcoding has some of the characteristics of large, coordinated, "top-down" projects like the Human Genome, and some characteristics of taxonomic research, which traditionally consists of individualistic "bottom-up" projects. Like the Human Genome, the goal of DNA barcoding is the construction of an enormous, online, freely available sequence database. Like taxonomic research, barcoding is often done by researchers who are focusing on one taxonomic group in various geographic regions or a diversity of taxa in one place. It's the BARCODE data standard that allows the products of bottom-up projects around the world to be integrated into a global initiative.
Participants in the DNA barcode initiative come in many configurations, including consortia, databases, networks, labs, and projects that range in size from local to global.
The largest consortia are:
- iBOL, the International Barcode of Life Project. This 25-nation consortium was organized by the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph with support from Genome Canada. iBOL's goal is to create 5 million barcode records from 500,000 species in five years. Ten Working Groups devoted to different taxonomic groups or habitat types form the core of the activity.
- CBOL, the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, promotes barcoding through conferences, outreach activities, working groups and workshops but does not generate any barcode data. CBOL is the designated lead organization for iBOL's Working Group for Outreach and Collaborations. CBOL is based at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
- ECBOL, the European Consortium for the Barcode of Life, was established as part of the research infrastructure efforts of EDIT, the European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy.
There are two central DNA barcode databases:
- BOLD, the Barcode of Life Data Systems at the University of Guelph is a public workbench for barcoding projects. Researchers can assemble, test, and analyze their data records in BOLD before uploading them to:
- GenBank, EMBL, and DDBJ which comprise the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration. They are the permanent public repository for barcode data records.
BOLD and the INSDC members are connected to other databases of voucher specimens (in museums, herbaria and other specimen repositories) and taxonomic names. These links among barcode sequences, voucher specimens and species names are required by the BARCODE data standard.
iBOL's partners consist of national, regional and central nodes, each of which is a network of projects, institutions and labs. The first national barcode network was in Canada, followed by others in the Netherlands, Mexico, Australia, and other countries.
CCDB, the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding at the University of Guelph is the largest 'barcode factory', generating hundreds of thousands of data records per year and training barcode researchers from around the world. CBOL has organized a 'Leading Labs Network' of 15 labs in 11 countries that provide technical assistance and training to each other and to new barcoders.
Barcoding projects can be coordinated, international activities like FISH-BOL or the ten iBOL Working Groups, or they can be the efforts of an individual or a small research team. What makes all barcoding projects similar is the need for voucher specimens that have been identified by expert taxonomists and adherence to the BARCODE data standard.