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$2.3M Australian Project Launched to ID Animal, Plant Species

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Australian research organizations have launched a A$2.5 million ($2.3 million) project to use genetic biomarkers to identify animal and plant species.

Led by Andrew Lowe, the chair in plant conservation biology at the University of Adelaide, the project is expected to accelerate the discovery and identification of unknown species, "advancing conservation and environmental management with economic benefit for the mining, fisheries, and forestry industries," the university said in a statement today.

According to Lowe a little more than 10 percent of the estimated 10 million species on Earth have been identified and described, and using traditional taxonomy would take at least 2,000 years in order to identify all of the planet's remaining species.

"With DNA barcoding, we can vastly accelerate this rate and generate significant scientific and economic benefits," he said. Additionally, by "using a genetic rather than morphological marker system, barcoding can help combat illegal trade in endangered and valuable species through more accurate identification and tracking."

The project has five immediate goals — verifying timber origins to deter illegal timber trading; authenticating the labeling and geographic origin of fish in the retail marketplace; mapping plant biodiversity in the Pilbara region in Western Australia in order to assess the environmental impact of mine sites and restore management; conducting biodiversity discovery and assessing the impact of invertebrates inhabiting underground aquifers used for mining and farming; and generating barcodes for Australia's orchids to enhance conservation.

Along with Lowe, the project includes researchers from Kings Park Botanic Garden, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australian Tropical Herbarium, the South Australian Museum, ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, and the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife. Research infrastructure organization Bioplatforms Australia is managing the project and providing access to DNA sequencing infrastructure and genomics and bioinformatics expertise, the University of Adelaide said.

Fortescue Metals Group and the Australian government are providing support to the project. Other funders include the BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities through the Bush Blitz program, the Indonesian Forest Research and Development Agency, and DoubleHelix Tracking Technologies.