Soon, DNA bar coding to identify any organism a call away

Kolkata, Dec 11 (IANS) Irritated with a pest that doesn’t seem to go away even after you have tried using a variety of insect sprays? A helpline on the anvil will soon connect you with experts who will decode the puzzle of the mysterious insect through an identification technology called DNA barcoding and provide solutions, courtesy the iBOL project.

The Calcutta University’s zoology department here has joined the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project spanning 25 nations, to form a digital database of DNA signatures, that can identify any plant, animal, organism on earth in a jiffy. The department would be eastern India’s hub for iBOL.

“Six months down the line we are planning to set up a helpline where the public and anybody with concerns such as identifying any organism that affects them can call.

“A sample will be collected and in matter of hours we can inform what the organism is and provide guidance on tackling the issue,” Ena Ray Banerjee of the varsity’s zoology department, who is leading the project in Kolkata, told IANS.

The identification is possible through genetic labels or DNA barcodes.

Just as shopkeepers scan the similar-yet-different zebra stripes (barcodes) on products to keep track of what they sell and what is in stock, examining certain ubiquitous genetic sequences can differentiate one species from the other with high accuracy.

The overall task of iBOL researchers is collecting and curating specimens, gathering barcode records from them and building the informatics platform needed to store these records and to enable their use in species identification.

Dubbed as a bio-literacy mission, iBOL’s eastern India hub will integrate various sectors such as health sciences, food safety, industry (like fish, tea and silk), protection of endangered species, conservation,wildlife crime control, Aidentifying invasive species, emerging diseases etc.

“If people register concerns about some unknown organisms causing diseases, then we identify and can flag the issue and connect with various agencies across India to raise awareness on possible emerging infections. This way it can help in predictions in health sciences,” said , said Banerjee, who heads the zoology department’s Immunobiology and Regenerative Medicine Research unit.

Encompassing as many as 12 varsities in West Bengal and 12 colleges in Kolkata, iBOL, in addition to creating a database of bar codes, will help train and develop a workforce of experts in DNA barcoding. They will work in tandem with experts from Botanical and Zoological Surveys of India.

Further, the main database will be connected with ancillary databases so that it is not just limited to identification.

“It has to be of use to the public. We would encourage people from all sections of society to come to us with any issues related to biodiversity. For example, tea and silk growers could approach us if they spot any infestation etc,” Banerjee added.

Over 4,000 specimens of CU’s zoology department, will be bar coded and uploaded in the BOLD databank. In India, two other organisations, one in Aurangabad and the other in Mumbai, are part of this international initiative.

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