Saturday, November 6, 2010

DNA Barcoding and Taxonomy - A comment

1. Way back in 2005 botanists and zoologists representing well-known herbaria and museum met in London to discuss plans to do barcoding the specimens. This is reported by Malte C. Ebach & Craig Holdrege, Buffalo Museum of Science, USA and The Nature Institute, Ghent, New York, USA, respectively.The purpose is to find a unique piece of DNA for every described species, so future taxonomists can run large biotic surveys without the need to learn or use morphological keys.

2. As taxonomy is always viewed by non-taxonomists as a discipline on the verge of extinction or a discipline of stamp collecting, the future of morpho-taxonomy is getting bleaker as we can't compete with the barcoders for meaningful grants anymore. As it is in Malaysia the taxonomists and the biodiversity scientists are losing to biotechnologists for good grants. The people who sit on the R & D panels viewed taxonomy can't deliver patents and sellable products.

3. Taxonomy has always been base on solid knowledge of morphology including anatomy, palynology, ecology, very soon barcoders don't have to understand what is a stipule or an ovate leaf!. To-day the morphologists are already losing to molecular taxonomists who use say, cytochrome c oxidase subunits to differentiate families, genera or species. In Malaysia, molecular taxonomy is still at infancy state and yet we are becoming followers to those who are beginning to divide a genus like Costus to many genera and align Verbenaceae to Labiatae, for example.

4. As discussed DNA barcoding generate information but not knowledge that are derived from observing specimens from a wide range of habitats and provenances to understand the infraspecific or intrageneric variation. A herbarium and useum like ours at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia is going to have problems acquiring DNA machines and employ barcoders not taxonomists and para-taxonomies to collect, curate and study plants and animals collections.

5. What kind of taxonomic impediments are these?