See Inside October 2008

Bar Code of Life: DNA Tags Help Classify Animals

Inspired by commercial bar codes, DNA tags could provide a quick, inexpensive way to identify species

Amadeo Bachar

Wandering the aisles of a supermarket several years ago, one of us (Hebert) marveled at how the store could keep track of the array of merchandise simply by examining the varying order of thick and thin lines that make up a product’s barcode. Why, he mused, couldn’t the unique ordering of the four nucleic acids in a short strand of DNA be mined in a similar way to identify the legions of species on earth?

Ever since Carl Linnaeus began systematically classifying all living things 250 years ago, biologists have looked at various features—color, shape, even behavior—to identify animals and plants. In the past few decades, researchers have begun to apply the genetic information in DNA to the task. But both classical and modern genetic methods demand great expertise and eat up huge amounts of time. Using just a small section of the DNA—something more akin to the 12-digit barcode on products—would require far less time and skill.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Scientific American Mind Digital

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues
+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

Hurry this offer ends soon! >


Email this Article


Next Article