genetic ‘barcodes’ may cut illegal trade

genetic 'barcodes' may cut illegal tradefrom reuters: New genetic tests could help crack down on illegal food or timber trade, fight malaria or even give clues to how to stop bird strikes with planes, scientists said on Friday.

Experts have identified DNA “barcodes” – named after the black and white lines that identify products in a supermarket – of more than 31,000 species of animals and plants against 12,700 species in 2005 in a fast-growing branch of science.

“We’re building up a reference library of species,” said David Schindel of the U.S. Smithsonian Institution who is executive secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life. About 350 barcode experts will meet from September 18-20 in Taipei.

A snippet of genetic material, such as a sliver of fish or sawdust from a plank of wood, can help identity a species by a DNA “barcode” unique to each species in a laboratory process taking a few hours and costing about $2.

Barcoding experts are working with regulators such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to seek applications for the database such as curbing illegal imports, fighting mosquitoes or helping understand bird migration routes.

Barcoding could help, for instance, identify a tiny worm on a shipment of bananas and so settle a dispute about whether it was a harmless pest just picked up at the port of entry or a more dangerous imported species.

The FDA warned in May that a shipment labeled monkfish from China might contain a type of puffer fish that can contain a deadly toxin if badly prepared. “Barcoding could help identify the fish quickly,” Schindel said.