Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Conference Impressions - Day 1

The International conference in Kunming is already running in full swing and I found a way to provide some posts while I am still here. Needless to say my posts can cover only a fraction of what was going on in all the sessions and I am not able to attend at all of them. However, I will follow up on some interesting stories and post them after the conference is over.

Here are four of my highlights of the day:

Paul Hebert shared his vision of a BIN registry as an amendment to the current binominal naming system. This is not intended to replace the current taxonomic naming system but to add a structure that helps dealing with the rapidly growing number of species that are waiting for a formal description. He compared this to other systems such as the registry of chemical compounds and the registry of stars and galaxies. In both cases the scientific communities historically had been using conventional naming systems for a long while before they realised that the amount of potential records exceeds human capabilities to name them all in a reasonable time span.

Plant markers
It is remarkable that the plant community represents the largest group at this conference and consequently we have six parallel sessions for plant related topics. During Pete Hollingsworth's plenary contribution it became clear once more that the quest for additional markers is not over. The two current standards rbcL and matK represent a good proxy and work in a considerable amount of cases quite well. No surprise as this is why they were chosen. However, since the Adelaide conference it is known that at least one more is needed to cover some groups. Some people proposed ITS as one option already a few years ago but this idea was met with a lot of scepticism and nobody thought it makes sense to invest in further research. Not the botanists here at the Kunming Institute of Botany, CAS. They actually did a large scale test which clearly showed the advantages of ITS and at this conference some of the initial sceptics actually admitted that this research is indeed very convincing. Certainly a nice Chinese success story which already came out at the end of 2011 but it took a while to gain further acceptance in the community.

In a number of talks and discussions participants stressed the importance of using BOLD as repository for barcodes and workbench. Gerhard Haszprunar from the Zoological States Collections in Munich reported that one reason for the success of Barcoding Fauna Bavarica was the consequent use of BOLD for project and data management. This also saved a considerable amount of costs which made the project more attractive for funders.

Kunming declaration
The day ended with a general discussion about the foundation of a society for DNA barcoding. The goal is to end the conference with a declaration that sets the stage for such a association. Of course there were a multitude of ideas what the roles of such a society should be but the community overall agreed that there is a real need for it. One of the visions for the future of DNA barcoding is that it should play a central role in conservation efforts to protect the world's biodiversity. The conference chair De-Zhu Li stressed this several times throughout the day and stated that he sees it at the centre of future activities as it has the potential to create real diversity baselines and meaningful monitoring programs.

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