Molecular Techniques

A new field of research has allowed for more accurate naming of species. Molecular techniques utilize the unique genetic code found in an individual organism's DNA as the best way to determine the species of a specimen. This is a more accurate way to identify organisms than traditional methods as it is independent of an individual taxonomist's opinion. It doesn't rely on researchers trying to categorize physical features that can sometimes be unclear. Additionally, scientists use molecular techniques to determine how different species relate to each other, allowing taxonomists to build a more thorough and accurate "tree of life" than had previously been possible.

One important recent advance in the field of molecular techniques is the development of DNA bar-coding. This approach characterizes a small segment of an organism's DNA to connect to its species name. This technology affords Census scientists an advantage when trying to identify large numbers of collected organisms and offers the possibility in the future of quickly identifying organisms when taxonomists and others with expertise in identifying organisms by sight are not available.

A drawing of a small sequence of DNA showing the different paired bases that allow for identification of species. (Biodiversity Institute of Ontario)

A scientist uses an instrument to process the DNA of an organism to determine its genetic makeup. (Halvor Knutsen, Institute of Marine Research)

A drawing showing the principle of DNA barcoding, which focuses on a small group of genes to make species' identifications. (Biodiversity Institute of Ontario)

More Info