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Genetic Riches

Identifying the animals, plants and microbes which sustain us means we can better understand the impact of human development, manage biosecurity threats to agriculture and improve conservation in the face of climate and land-use changes.

If you don't know what's there, how do you know what biological riches you have and how to protect them? There is an old saying: "You don't realise what you've got until it's gone". While this may be true, there is something worse: Losing something precious you never knew was there.

Identification methods to date have been time consuming, expensive and often wrong. As the large-scale analysis of DNA gets cheaper and easier, we are witnessing a revolution in our understanding of the way living systems work and how to manage biodiversity.

DNA barcoding should change this. By reading the code of a small, standard strip of DNA sequence, a plant, animal or microbe can be identified. Just like a barcode scanner reading the black stripes on items you buy at the grocery store, such a system could tell us the name of any plant, animal or disease - in minutes and for a fraction of the cost.

The institute is helping to develop biodiversity genomics infrastructure for Australia. We need enhanced capabilities to undertake genetic analysis through new technologies, databases for DNA coding outputs, the digitisation of specimen collection and education and training.

Such advances for Australia aim to improve economic productivity, sustainability and security for Australia. Faster and accurate assessments of species could reduce the cost and time of Environmental Impact Assessments in sectors such as mining. It will help us to better to understand the threats from invasive species to agriculture, fisheries and local environments and will assist in managing our native plants and animals as climate and land-use changes.

There are already significant capacities in this country through programs such as the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN). The opportunity is to build on this capacity and deliver significant capabilities for addressing tomorrow's biodiversity, ecological and economic needs.

Environment Institute
The University of Adelaide

SA 5005 AUSTRALIA

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T: +61 8 8313 0543
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