Paul D.N. Hebert

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the 2018 Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences (USD 200,000) to Paul Hebert, Research Chair in Molecular Biodiversity at the University of Guelph (Canada).

A catalogue for the library of life

Paul Hebert is receiving the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences for his pivotal contribution to developing a genetic barcode capable of classifying every biological species on Earth. 

Paul Hebert is known as the 'father of DNA barcoding', a taxonomic method that uses a short section of DNA from a standardised region of the genome to identify different species, in the same way a supermarket scanner uses barcodes to identify purchases. 

Hebert first raised the possibility of such a method in 2000. He is now the Scientific Director of the International Barcode of Life Project (iBOL), in which researchers from 25 countries are attempting to assign barcodes to millions of species on Earth. 

The project has demonstrated that DNA barcoding can speed the discovery of new species and distinguish between separate species that used to be classified as one. Thanks to DNA barcoding, we now have a more precise way of measuring the number of species that inhabit a specific ecosystem and we can analyse complex food chains with much greater accuracy. 

The Barcode of Life Project is generating an impressive stream of data. Hebert’s research group is building digital systems to gather, store and analyse all this information and make it available to the community. The database now contains the genetic codes of approximately 600,000 species and is being used by almost 25,000 researchers worldwide. 

New methods are bringing the ultimate goal of the project ever closer: a comprehensive inventory of global biodiversity. If the project succeeds, its legacy will yield lasting benefits to humankind.

Press photos

       

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