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Posted: Jun 24 2008

                                            Florida Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative
                                                                  by Marlo F. Krisberg 2008

The Florida Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative is an effort by the Malacology & Marine Invertebrates group of the
Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH), University of Florida, to participate in the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL). CBOL is an international collaboration of natural history museums, herbaria, biological repositories, and biodiversity inventory sites, and others to compile a library of DNA barcodes of all plant and animal species. The premise behind the project is that short DNA sequences of ca. 600 nucleotides along a uniform locality on the genomes of all living things is sufficiently different among most species to serve as an unambiguous species-level identifier. So, the CBOL initiative is aimed at accomplishing this standardized DNA analysis of all living things and creating an accessible-to-all electronic barcode library. As a result, anyone with the capability to accomplish a DNA analysis of a specimen will be able to search the library for a barcode match and establish a valid species-level identification. The CBOL initiative includes computer sciences and electronics participants whose contribution will be to create the user-friendly, searchable electronic library and push the DNA analysis technology to development of a field-portable and inexpensive analyzer capable of direct linkage to the library.

Of course, it’s rather difficult to speak in “barcode,” and that affordable hand-held DNA analyzer is probably many years away. So, the species barcodes will be linked to binomial species names. And here is where the CBOL initiative will potentially benefit those of us unable to do a DNA analysis of the specimens we collect. Once the barcode initiative begins, entries into the library with their linked species names (and corresponding morphological descriptions) will be available for the taxonomists and morphologists to examine and thereby distinguish valid or invalid species distinctions/names and clean up the massive confusion and overlap in the literature [all specimens will also be illustrated – which you will be able to view on the web]. And, hopefully along the way, they will verify and/or expanded morphologically descriptions in a manner as to more readily allow those without DNA analyzers to distinguish among similar species.

The Florida Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative aims to establish a well-identified, vouchered, photographed, and barcoded inventory of as many Florida marine invertebrates as possible, create a library database at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and make this information broadly available in its own right and as a contributor to the CBOL. Both the CBOL and Florida Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative efforts will start with and/or by attempting barcoding of existing collections of “wet” specimens in museums and other biological repositories. However, since few such extensive collections exist where the “wet” material has been properly preserved for DNA analysis, the major challenge will be obtaining fresh specimens that are properly vouchered, documented (good initial identifications, collection data and photographs), and preserved for DNA analysis.


                  Florida Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative and Shell Collectors

The FLMNH’s Curator of Marine Malacology, Dr. Gustav Paulay, is spearheading the Florida Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative to get fresh, alcohol-preserved specimens of as many Florida marine invertebrate (and west Atlantic) species as possible for the museum’s barcode library and to feed into the CBOL sequencing pipeline. The Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative is in its infancy and is expected to extend over the next decade (and beyond). It will start with the FLMNH’s existing “wet” collection. However, Dr. Paulay states that “Our alcoholic coverage of the state is limited, so even many common species are needed.” “… if you know of people who would be willing to help get us specimens, that would be really appreciated.” He adds that, “We would like material where the vouchers can be deposited at FLMNH and are preserved in 95% alcohol, in the ideal case even have a photo of the living animal.” The Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative targets all marine invertebrates, not just mollusks. Readers interested in collecting and providing marine invertebrate material (or particularly mollusks) can contact Dr. Paulay at

                              First Expedition of the Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative

The Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative is just one of several simultaneous involvements in barcoding efforts around the world by Dr. Paulay and the Malacology & Marine Invertebrates group of the FLMNH. In partnership with other CBOL participants Dr. Paulay and his team are just this year starting the development of processes and procedures for diverse disciplined field teams to accurately and rapidly collect, inventory, barcode and document marine invertebrates. An initial, developmental field expedition was conducted March 4-6, 2008 at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce. Participating were zoologists, information systems personnel and volunteers some of whom are pictured here.

From right to left -

Marlo Krisberg, volunteer
Lee Weight, Director, Laboratories of Analytical

Biology, Smithsonian
Andrea Ormos, Technician at Laboratories of Analytical

Biology, Smithsonian
Dirk Steinke, PhD student, University of Guelph, Canada
Chris Meyer, Research Zoologist, Smithsonian
Jerry Harasewych, Research Zoologist, Smithsonian
Gustav Paulay, Associate Curator of Marine Malacology, FLMNH


The group spent three days (and nights) collecting specimens, sorting, photographing, preserving and documenting. The purpose of this first effort was to involve all process contributors and participants (esp. including administrative and software systems personnel), expose them to the realities and difficulties of field conditions, and work out procedures and software systems that would allow rapid, comprehensive and accurate documentation (including photo documentation) during intensive and multi-disciplinary field expeditions. 

I was only able to participate for the first day. It was a wonderful experience with a bunch of exciting and highly interesting personnel. Since then I have been participating in the Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative by collecting, documenting, photographing, and preserving local area marine mollusks and sending them to Dr. Paulay. I’m also looking forward to the next expedition and hopefully be able to spend more time with a great bunch of folks. If you’d like to contribute to the Marine Invertebrates Genetic Barcoding Initiative, sent an email to Gustav Paulay

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