Once used exclusively to 'identify' products to ease business transactions and back-end operations, Barcodes
have come a long way and have forayed into every consumer sector- be it health, hospitality,auto-mobile, retail or non-retail
But wherever it is, barcode's primary function as 'identity marker' has not been changed. Seeing its vast advantage and potential, scientists are using barcodes for various purposes. While hospitals use barcodes on test tubes and patients to prevent mix-ups at labs and operation theatres, biologists use barcodes for 'DNA labeling'.
Every single species, whether plants or animals can be classified and coded for future references through an innovative identification technology known as DNA barcoding.
Recently zoology department of Calcutta University has joined hands with the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project, which has 25 nations in its fold, to form a digital database of DNA signatures, which can identify any organism, plant or animal on earth in a jiffy. Undoubtedly, the University department would be eastern India's hub for iBOL.
Recently, talking to media, Ena Ray Banerjee, Associate Professor of the University's Zoology Department, who is heading the project in Kolkata, expressed his desire to have a helpline in six months for general public, who want to know or identify any organism or species which affect them the most.
Through genetic labels or DNA Barcodes, in a matter of few minutes, we can identify the disease causing organism and can offer guidance to people on tacking the issue, Banerjee explains.
Comparing the barcodes used in retail shop environments labeling and inventory management purposes, Banerjee says, probing certain ubiquitous genetic sequences can help differentiate one species from the other with high degree of accuracy.
To make the huge database, iBOL researchers are collecting and curating organism samples, encoding barcodes and building a knowledge platform required to store these records so as to use them for species identification in future.
Explaining how this technology can help prevent disease outbreaks, Banerjee, who also heads the zoology department's Immuno-biology and Regenerative Medicine Research unit, says, "If someone gives us information about some unknown organisms causing diseases, we can identify and flag the issue by contacting various health agencies, so that awareness can be created about the possible emerging infections."
Integrating as many as 12 universities in West Bengal and 12 colleges in Kolkata, iBOL has planned to train and develop a workforce of experts in DNA barcoding with the help of experts drawn from Botanical and Zoological Surveys of India.
Over 4,000 specimens of Calcutta University 's zoology department, will be barcoded and uploaded in the BOLD databank. In India, two other organisations, one in Aurangabad and the other in Mumbai, are part of this international initiative.