CBOL receives $3 million grant from Google Foundation to barcode endangered species

Border inspectors and wildlife officials around the world are constantly on the lookout for endangered species that are being killed and trafficked in violation of national laws and international treaties.  Sometimes the objects are easily identified as coming from a particular endangered species but many cannot be identified, even by expert taxonomists.  ‘Bushmeat’ is often trafficked as dried smoked meat that has been removed from bones that might have diagnostic features.  Endangered plants might be exported as seeds or leaf cuttings, or as medicinal powders.  Articles of clothing and jewelry may have been tanned or dyed, making positive identification of their species difficult.

Today Google announced a new Global Impact Awards program to support organizations using technology and innovative approaches to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges. A project at the Smithsonian Institution devoted to reducing illegal wildlife trafficking is among the first seven grant recipients.  A $3 million Global Impact Award will go to the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) to create a ‘DNA barcode’ reference library for approximately 2,000 endangered species and 8,000 species that are closely related to them or are commonly confused with them.  DNA barcoding is a technique developed at a Canadian university for identifying species using a short, standardized gene sequence.  The reference library will be part of GenBank, the DNA sequence archive at the National Library of Medicine in the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD.  The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has hosted CBOL since it was created in 2004 with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

For more information, see the Google Blog and video.