Scannable Birds? New DNA Barcodes Classify Nature

Researchers have found a new way to classify nature: DNA barcodes. The barcodes, like those seen in the supermarket, record the unique genetics of a species. Scientists have barcoded the DNA of nearly 95 percent of North American birds, and in the process have discovered new species previously undistinguishable by sight alone. 

Barcodes, which were developed in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute, will not only reveal genetic anomalies to scientists; eventually they could allow nature lovers to instantly identify an animal with a simple hand-held device. And they'll help confirm sightings of elusive animals like the maybe-extinct, maybe-not ivory billed woodpecker.

The DNA barcodes will also apply to plants, aiding identification of genetically modified flora and alerting scientists to any anomalies. The barcodes, however, won't solve the problem that there is still no international, scientific consensus on what genetic or visual identifiers make a new species.

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