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UF study first to quantify validity of DNA I.D. tool using marine snails

A trendy holiday gift within a decade may be a hand-held device that instantly identifies any species from a snippet of animal tissue, says a University of Florida researcher.

That may be possible thanks to scientific advances that include the first test quantifying the effectiveness of a DNA identification tool among brightly colored shells. With an error rate as low as 4 percent, two UF scientists have been able to identify cowries collected from around the world by analyzing tissue samples from the marine organisms and comparing them to a comprehensive catalog of species they compiled.

The findings are published in the December issue of PLOS Biology.

"DNA barcoding the ability to take a remnant of animal tissue or blood and compare it with a known data base has attracted widespread attention with its promise as a valuable aid in species identification and discovery," said Christopher Meyer, a UF biologist and one of the researchers. "However, few comprehensive datasets are available to test its performance. This is the first study to actually put realistic numbers on it."

Because species around the world are disappearing faster than biologists can identify them, the need for a quick and accurate method of classifying life has never been more pressing, Meyer said. With millions of animal species on Earth, DNA barcoding can be a helpful identification tool for ecologists who may not necessarily be taxonomy experts, he said.

"This new technology is seen as kind of a fancy, cool tool that will revitalize museums, which will house the reference collections, and generate 'gee whiz' appreciation from the general public as well," he said.

Much of the analysis was done at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF -- where Meyer and his co-author Gustav Paulay are curators -- because of its world-renowned collection of cowries. After 10 years of collecting and sequencing cowries from around the world, Meyer and Paulay as
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Contact: Christopher Meyer
cmeyer@flmnh.ufl.edu
510-684-9060
University of Florida
29-Nov-2005


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