The global hub for DNA barcoding research is now bigger and better than ever.

The Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG) officially opened today at the University of Guelph. The state-of-the-art facility more than triples the space available for discovering, identifying and cataloguing species from around the globe using barcoding technology.

“DNA barcoding is revolutionizing how species are identified and recorded, and how we look at life on our planet,” said John Livernois, associate vice-president (research services), during a campus event.

Gary Goodyear, minister of state (science and technology), added: “Since we launched the science and technology strategy in 2007, our government has made substantial investments to strengthen Canada’s science capacity. DNA barcoding is the kind of advanced research that we should all be excited about because it protects our health and well-being, creates jobs and economic growth, and showcases Canadian innovation.”

First proposed by Guelph integrative biologist Paul Hebert, DNA barcoding allows scientists to identify animal and plant species using short, standardized regions of genetic material. It works for all life stages and allows biologists to rapidly identify species from a snippet of tissue.

Hebert and his research team have honed the novel technique into a multifaceted international research program. Today’s event drew representatives from 12 other countries involved in DNA barcoding research: Argentina, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and United States.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity, sent congratulations via video, saying that the new centre will play a “central role” in capacity building and preservation off biodiversity.

“It’s a rapidly developing field,” said Hebert. “DNA barcodes are a vital tool not only for conservation, but also for monitoring species that have adverse impacts on human health and economic well-being. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of how DNA barcoding will impact the ways we live, work and play.”

The growing DNA “barcode library” has helped scientists collect and classify species and stores more than two million barcode records. It has already led to the discovery of hundreds of overlooked species of birds, bats, butterflies, fishes and marine algae.

It is also being used to trace the origin of food contaminants, and identify mislabelled food and other products, helping alleviate consumer fears. It’s also improving pest and disease control and regulation of international trade and markets.

The CBG is a $16-million expansion of the original Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO), which opened in 2007. The high-tech addition was funded by matching $7.1-million investments from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI), coupled with $2 million from Genome Canada. CFI and MRI also invested more than $10 million for the original BIO facility, and private sector firms contributed $2 million.

“Support from the public and private sectors has been key to developing and expanding this pioneering initiative,” Livernois said. “This new facility represents nearly a decade of effort and investment by the University and public and private supporters.”

In addition, between 2007 and 2016, the DNA barcode research program will receive nearly $50 million in operating funds to ensure active use of the new facilities. That includes $20 million from Genome Canada, $7.5 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, $11.5 million from MRI, $3 million from CFI, and $2.1 million from the International Development and Research Centre.

Among the private partners is the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which donated $3.7 million to aid DNA barcode research at Guelph. It’s one of the largest research awards received by a single U of G faculty member from a non-government agency. As a result of this support, more than 100 scientists, technicians, and informaticians work at the CBG and BIO, as well as more than 30 graduate students.

The CBG is the scientific hub for the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project, the largest initiative ever undertaken in biodiversity genomics. It involves more than 1,000 researchers in 26 countries developing a DNA barcode reference library as well as new informatics tools and technologies. This research team is focused on building a DNA barcode reference library for 500,000 species by late 2015, an accomplishment that will represent a major step in the development of a DNA-based biosurveillance system.

“We are witnessing alarming rates of species extinction, and efforts to reverse this trend are hampered by huge gaps in our knowledge about the distribution and diversity of life,” said Hebert, who is iBOL’s scientific director as well as the director of BIO.

“We’re determined to reverse this trend by providing the information needed to manage and protect biodiversity on a planetary scale.”