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.
“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.
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.