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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Florida Museum of Natural History's task of identifying DNA of 25,000 marine specimens is getting easier thanks to a ,186,000 private grant.

UF received the grant - far from shrimp-sized - in December from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports research in science, technology and economics.

It funds the museum's ongoing efforts to gather the genetic sequences, or "barcodes," of about 5,000 marine invertebrates in its collection, such as crabs, corals, jellyfish, snails and shrimp.

Gustav Paulay, curator of the UF department that studies mollusks, said the extra funding will help researchers identify species that have not been properly classified and compile DNA samples for future reference.

"The purpose of this is to build a library in which you can match things," Paulay said.

The grant is part of an international DNA-barcoding project, worth close to ,1 million. The project links the Florida Museum's collection with the collections of the natural history museums in Paris and Australia.

Paulay said each museum works independently, but all the findings will be available on a public online database.

About 85,000 different specimens from 20,300 species will be photographed and prepared for DNA barcoding among the three museums, stated a news release from the Florida Museum.

The museum was offered the grant by the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, an international project devoted to DNA barcoding, because it has the largest collection of invertebrates in the nation, Paulay said.

He said the two-year project, called the Marine Barcode of Life, will be completed by December 2009, but the database will be updated regularly as research progresses.

Machel Malay, a UF Ph.D. candidate working for Paulay, said the Web site would include a world map to show viewers locations of species with similar genes that are oceans apart.

"It's getting easier all the time," Malay said.

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John Slapcinsky, the museum's mollusk collection manager, said DNA barcoding is important because species sometimes look similar until researchers compare their gene sequences.

"By looking at the DNA, you can see differences that you can't see by eye," Slapcinsky said.

An online database will benefit students and scientists for years to come, he said.

"It's almost hard to guess how it could be used in the future," Slapcinsky said. "It makes the study of animals much more accessible."

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