Scientist Proposes New DNA-based Naming System for All Living Organisms

Posted February 21st, 2014 at 10:00 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

DNA helix

DNA helix

All living organisms on Earth could soon have a new name if a Virginia Tech professor has his way.

Boris Vinatzer has developed a system that classifies and names organisms based on their genome sequence.

His study was published today in PLoS One.

Vinatzer says his new system would provide scientists and others with a much more precise and clear “universal language” that could make communicating about all life on Earth easier.

Adopting his system would provide each of Earth’s organisms, whether it’s a bacterium, plant, fungus or animal, with a heartier, more detailed and useful name, according to Vinatzer.

The naming system is based on the one devised in the 18th century by Carl Linnaeus (aka Carl von Linné), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who is often referred to godfather of genus (taxonomic rank). The Linnaeus classification system has been used by scientists worldwide for more than 200 years.

Carl Linnaeus is a botanist who in the 18th century devised a system for classifying living things that is still used today. (Wikimedia Commons)

Carl Linnaeus is a botanist who in the 18th century devised a system for classifying living things that is still used today. (Wikimedia Commons)

Genome sequencing technology has progressed immensely in recent years and it now allows us to distinguish between any bacteria, plant, or animal at a very low cost,” said Vinatzer, who is with Virginia Tech’s Fralin Life Science Institute. “The limitation of the Linnaeus system is the absence of a method to name the sequenced organisms with precision.”

Rather than completely change the current naming convention of biological classification, Vinatzer sees his system more as a way to add more specific defining data to the classification of every organism within its already named species.

Since the naming system would depend on an organism’s specific genetic code, he says it would allow for a much quicker and more universal way of identifying new life forms.

The system begins with the sampling and sequencing of an organism’s DNA.

The sequenced DNA is then used to produce unique code that is specific to that individual organism, but is also based on its similarity to other like organisms that have already been sequenced.

Scientist Boris Vinatzer at work in his lab ( Virginia Tech)

Scientist Boris Vinatzer at work in his lab ( Virginia Tech)

Unlike the current method of biological classification where the names of organisms may change and vary over time, Vinatzer says the code system would make names  permanent and standardized.

He also says that naming life forms based on his proposed code system would be faster than today’s long and detailed process that requires analyzing one organism’s physical characteristics compared to another’s.

Back in 2009, Vinatzer and a colleague had success with using genome sequencing to trace a pathogen that was devastating kiwifruit crops around the world back to China.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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One Response to “Scientist Proposes New DNA-based Naming System for All Living Organisms”

  1. Cstar1 says:

    For this article to be worthwhile to laymen, it should have included examples of what the new naming system would be. I appreciate the fact that there are so many links to further information, but really? You couldn’t have included some examples?