Moore Foundation funds DNA barcoding at UH Hilo

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
Dr. Donald Price, 808-974-7365
Director of Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science (TCBES) Grad
Dr. Elizabeth Stacy
Assistant Professor of Biology and TCBES Graduate Program
Posted: Feb 17, 2009

The Moore Foundation is pleased to announce a $1.18 M grant to UH Hilo Biology and TCBES Faculty Drs. Donald Price and Elizabeth Stacy to study the biodiversity and genetics of several groups of Native Hawaiian plants and insects. The Moore Foundation is dedicated to advancing environmental conservation and cutting-edge scientific research around the world. The project will engage UH Hilo undergraduate and graduate students, technicians and post-doctoral associates.

The work by Price and Stacy builds on the Moore Foundation support of DNA Barcoding and related biodiversity-based research in the Pacific. This Barcoding project will use the Hawaiian Islands, and especially Hawaiʻi island, as an evolutionary laboratory:
1) to evaluate the utility of DNA barcoding for young species of plants and animals, and
2) to identify additional DNA "barcoding genes" useful for these groups.The world is rapidly losing species, largely through human-induced environmental changes. The conservation of Earth‘s remaining biodiversity will require improvements in species identification and delineation, as well as better understanding of the factors that create and maintain biodiversity. Because DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the genetic material of all life on Earth, it can be used to identify and catalog species. The "Barcode of Life" Initiative posits that species identification can be done using a short segment of DNA in the mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) for animals and a similarly short segment of DNA in the plant‘s chloroplast genome (cpDNA). The principle behind DNA barcoding is simply that after a gene pool is segregated into two or more separate gene pools through the process of speciation, evolutionary factors working independently on these gene pools will cause genetic differences to accumulate between species. Further, some of these genetic differences will be species specific and, hence, once identified, will be useful for delineating species. It has become clear, however, that this "single-gene" approach to barcoding is not sufficient for delineating all species. The most difficult challenges to barcoding are presented by young taxa, tropical taxa, and groups with strong geographic structure due to limited dispersal.

The Hawaiian archipelago, and especially young Hawaiʻi island, "Evolution Island," is an ideal natural laboratory for testing the utility of DNA barcoding for recently derived species and for identifying additional DNA regions for barcoding. The main Hawaiian Islands represent the most isolated archipelago in the world, and they derive from known geological processes operating on a well established time line — from 5-million-year-old Kauaʻi to Hawaiʻi island, which is still forming. The younger islands, especially Hawaiʻi island, are microcosms of environmental diversity, boasting extreme environmental and climatic gradients over small spatial scales. Lastly, the islands boast several species-rich plant and animal groups comprising a large number of young species (≤ 1 or 2 million years, depending on group) on the younger island regions (Hawaiʻi island and East Maui). This project will involve extensive sampling and DNA sequence analysis of two insect groups and two groups of flowering plants with a large number of young species on Hawaiʻi island and Maui. Species within these species-rich groups exist along broad environmental gradients that facilitate the processes of local adaptation and speciation. Determining the limits and usefulness of DNA barcoding on Hawaiʻi island will advance the global reach of this technique for studies on island systems and will resolve the utility of the technique for evolutionarily young species, which likely make up a significant portion of Earth‘s biodiversity.