A new European infrastructure is urgently needed to firmly link names and thus all information to a rapidly developing new standard in biology: the identification of species via DNA sequence signatures, a process known as “DNA barcoding”.
Although DNA sequence-based species identification has been utilized previously in connection with phylogenetic studies such as Assembling the Tree of Life (ATOL), the development that has made DNA barcoding (of just one or two standardized gene loci per organism) an emerging gold-standard for species recognition has been very recent, with the first publication in 2003 (Hebert et al. 2003), the setting up of the master international Consortium for the Barcoding of Life (CBOL) courtesy of a USD 2 million grant from the Sloan Foundation in 2004, and the first European-based conference at London’s Natural History Museum in March, 2005. This development has already shown itself to have unprecedented power for clarifying species identities and limits, uncovering new and often cryptic species, and allowing species identification of difficult specimens such as larvae, seeds, tissue fragments, sterile mycelia and fossils. At the same time, however, it has also cast doubt on the identity of all morphologically identified materials, including the collected biological type, authentic and voucher specimens that anchor the meaningful usage of all biological names and thus all biological information. Furthermore, barcoding often reveals cryptic species that even specialist morphotaxonomists cannot reliably identify. Thus it has become clear to all significant museums and collections worldwide that the contruction of a database of DNA barcodes corresponding to unique and high-priority collected specimens is imperative.
In response to the growing number of researchers who are using DNA barcoding, data standards for barcode records have been developed, and an open access database has been created. The Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) has engaged more than 125 Member Organizations in 40 countries in iBOL. Furthermore, a DNA barcoding community network, Connect, under the auspice of CBOL, has been launched to allow for communication and collaboration on a global scale, overcoming the rather dispersed nature of DNA barcoding researchers and enthusiasts.