Project

Project: Q-BOL - DNA barcode mapped

Development of a new diagnostic tool using DNA barcoding to identify quarantine organisms in support of plant health.
QBOL stands for Quarantine organisms Barcode Of Life. It is an international initiative which is developing a DNA barcode system for the documentation and classification of all forms of life, plants and animals.

QBOL stands for Quarantine organisms Barcode Of Life. It is an international initiative which is developing a DNA barcode system for the documentation and classification of all forms of life, plants and animals.

In the QBOL project fifteen countries across the world will in the coming three years be mapping DNA barcodes of existing collections of quarantine organisms of bacteria, fungi, viruses, phytoplasms, nematodes, and insects. DNA samples from these collections will be exchanged and sequenced. After that it will be investigated which and how many genes are required to properly distinguish the different species of fungi, insects etc. Plant Research International is coordinator of this EU-financed project.


A customs official at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport identifies the DNA barcode of an unknown insect in a batch of roses he is checking. He then looks this DNA barcode up in a database to check whether the insect is harmful, in which case the batch will be rejected. If the database shows that the insect is harmless he can allow the roses to pass. This scenario should become reality within a few years thanks to an EU-financed research project started today called QBOL which stands for Quarantine organisms Barcode Of Life.

Over the next three years, fifteen countries worldwide will create an overview of DNA barcodes of existing collections of quarantine organisms of bacteria, fungi, viruses, phytoplasmas, nematodes and insects in the QBOL project. DNA samples from these collections will be exchanged and sequenced. A study will then be made of which genes and how many are needed to adequately distinguish various species of bacteria, fungi, insects, etc. Although the DNA sequences of related species are generally very similar, there are differences to be found. The part of the DNA sequence that is different is specific to that particular organism and forms a unique and specific molecular DNA barcode. One or several specific DNA barcodes will be made for each quarantine organism (Q organism).

All DNA barcodes will be linked to a description of the morphological characteristics (structure and form) of the particular nematode, insect, virus and so forth. The exterior and molecular features will be stored in the QBOL database, which will be connected to other, existing databases to allow for the storage and exchange of barcodes of Q organisms. The QBOL database will be accessible to everyone via the internet. In practice, a condition for use after the QBOL project is completed will be that the established and expanded databases are managed by (inter)national governments and end users such as plant pathologists, inspection services and reference laboratories.

The possibility of identifying harmful Q organisms with molecular technologies is becoming increasingly important. As the number of plants being traded worldwide increases, so the chance of harmful organisms spreading is enhanced. At the same time, the taxonomic knowledge available to identify harmful Q organisms via their visual characteristics is gradually decreasing. The economic damage is equally significant: Both when a harmful Q organism is not identified and when an organism is incorrectly diagnosed as a Q organism because, for instance, it looks a great deal like a Q organism (so-called look-alikes).

Plant Research International, a part of Wageningen UR, is coordinating the QBOL project, which the EU is financing to the tune of around € 3 million over three years. Partners from various countries in Europe are cooperating with China, New Zealand, South Africa, Peru and Brazil in this unique joint project. QBOL is linked to another Dutch initiative in this field, the FES programme ‘Strengthening the infrastructure of plant health’ that runs until 2010 and is financed by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. The data that is gathered in this programme will be included in and expanded upon in the QBOL project.

Barcoding Nematodes (WP5) - main resposible investigators: dr. Juerg Frey (Agroscope Changins-Waedenswil Research Station ACW, Switzerland) and dr. Johannes Helder (WU - Lab. Nematology)