Author:Anouk Barberousse (Université Paris-Sorbonne)
Paper short abstract:
While biologists disagree on the definition of the species concept, the DNA barcoding technique claims to allow for quickly identifying species in the wild. How reliable is this new technique?
Paper long abstract:
The "Barcoding of Life" technique is a new way to "identify species with DNA barcoding", as its promoters claim. It is based on the quick sequencing of a short gene sequence from a standard part of the genome, the same for all living beings. The newly analyzed sequences are collected in a world-wild database and compared with already identified specimens' sequences in order to assess to which species the recently discovered organisms belong. While still under construction, this technique is claimed to provide the remedy to the problems of species identification in the wild. Currently, biologists identify species by mostly relying on morphological criteria, which take long years to master. The Barcoding of Life technique is easy to learn and to apply, and is supposed to be less error-prone that the taxonomists' practices.
The association of a species with a particular, small DNA sequence however raises several questions, bearing on the reliability of the method. It reminds of genetic definitions of the species concept, which are not the most popular ones nowadays. The paper is devoted to the relationships between this operational way of identifying species and the current debate on the definition of the species concept. While biologists still disagree on what species are, is it reasonable to develop such a powerful way to attribute wild specimens a species name? How do the uncertainties of theory interact with the swiftness and efficiency of the barcoding technique?
Shadows and lights on global biodiversity: taxonomy's revival (EN)