Category Archives: DNA barcode

Door #15: The eye of the beholder

It’s funny to see the different reactions to fresh material that comes in to the museum;  the exhibition team had  received some kelp that will be pressed and dried for the new exhibitions (opening fall 2019), and I ducked in to secure some of the fauna sitting on the kelp before it was scraped off and discarded. For the botanists, the animals were merely a distraction that needed to be removed so that they could deal with the kelp, whilst I was trying to avoid too much algae in the sample as it messes up the fixation of the animals.

I chose the right shirt for the day- it’s full of nudibranchs! (photo: L. Martell)


I then spirited my loot into the lab, and set up camp.

Count me in amongst the people who stare at lumps of seaweed.


Who’s there? The whole lump is ~12 cm.

How many animals do you see here? Which ones appeal to you?

I have made a quick annotation of some of the biota here:

Note that these are just some of the critters present…! (photo: K. Kongshavn)

Let’s go closer on a small piece of algae:

Now, what do you see? (photo: K. Kongshavn)

For Luis, the first thing to catch the eye was (of course) the Hydrozoa

Hydrozoans (the christmas light looking strings), encrusting bryozoans (the flat, encrusting growth on on the algae – you might also know them as moss animals), and some white, spiralling polychaete tubes  (photo: K. Kongshavn)

Did you spot the sea hare (Aplysia punctata?) Look a bit above the middle of the photo of the tiny aquarium with the black background. Do you see a red-pink blob?

Hello, Aplysia punctata! (photo: K. Kongshavn)

There were also several other sea slugs that I have handed over to Cessa for inclusion in the sea slugs of Southern Norway project, here are a few:

Then there were the shelled gastropods:

The brittle star from the earlier image – this is a Ophiopholis aculeata, the crevice sea star (photo: K. Kongshavn)

In fact, they both are Ophiopholis aculeata (in Norwegian we call them “chameleon brittle stars” – they live up to the name!), one of the very common species around here. (photo: K. Kongshavn)

One of the colonial ascidian tunicates (and some of the ever present bryozoa just below it) (photo: K. Kongshavn)

Most of these animals will be barcoded, and will help build our reference library for species that occur in Norway. I also hope that they may have helped open your eyes to some of the more inconspicuous creatures that live just beneath the surface?

2019 will see the start of a new species taxonomy project where we will explore the invertebrate fauna of shallow-water rocky shores, so there will be many more posts like this to come!


Door #14: Annelids from the deep Norwegian waters

We have recently started a new mapping project funded by the Norwegian Taxonomy Initiative (Artsdatabanken) on the deep-sea annelids. The annelid fauna in the deep areas of the Norwegian Sea, deeper than 2000 m, has recently been shown to be significantly different from the upper slope and shelf fauna. Morphology-based studies indicate that as much as 40% of the deep-sea annelid species are new to science, and initial results from DNA-barcoding provided even higher numbers. This project aims to characterize, describe and map these unknown species of annelids and will provide much needed baseline knowledge for monitoring of environmental effects from future deep-sea mining and other human activities.

Figures: Tom selecting 96 specimens of annelids from HAUSGARTEN for DNA barcoding.

We have started the project by processing a number of samples from a German expedition on RV Polarstern to the long-term research observatory HAUSGARTEN located at the Fram Strait. The samples have been collected between 1000 and 5000 m depth and harbor more than 30 putative morphospecies. We are going to barcode 96 individuals from this material to supplement the barcode library of the Norwegian annelids and to help resolve taxonomical problems within several taxa.



Door #5: DNA-barcoding with BOLD

Much of the activities in our invertebrate collections are dedicated to so-called DNA-barcoding. Our mission in the NORBOL consortium is to produce DNA-barcodes, particularly for marine fauna in Norwegian waters and to make these barcodes available with open access to records and metadata in In the same manner we have also worked to produce DNA-barcodes for marine invertebrates on the West-African continental shelf in a project called we call MIWA.

These QR-codes will take you to maps with plots of specimens that have been barcoded in our projects (or simply click on them. The red dots on the maps are interactive):

QR-code to view our barcoding efforts in NORBOL

QR-code to view our barcoding in the MIWA project

The basic idea motivating these activities is very simple in principle. You collect specimens and identify them, preferably to species, take digital photographs, and upload information about collection site and other relevant data to a database (

The specimen page has a picture and other data about the organism that the DNA sequence (presumably) was produced from (click picture to enlarge).

You take a tissue sample to extract DNA from the specimen and use DNA-sequencing technology to target a special fragment of DNA to read the sequence of nucleotides. The expectation is that this sequence may be unique for the particular species you identified.  If indeed the expectation is fulfilled, you can use that sequence as an unambiguous identifier (“bar-code”) of that species.  You have produced a DNA-barcode!

A sequence page in BOLD contains the DNA-sequence (the barcode), the aminoacid translation of the sequence, and the trace-files from the DNA-sequencing machine.(Click picture to enlarge)

Your barcode should enter a DNA-barcode library so that, with an appropriate web-interface to a powerful computer with a search algorithm that compares similarities, you should be able to search with a second sequence from another individual of the same species and find that it is identical, or at least very similar to the one you produced for the DNA-barcode library.  The benefits are potentially many. One advantage is that you may be able to identify a species although all the morphological characteristics have been lost. For the biologist DNA-barcodes may help to identify juvenile stages of a species or even the stomach contents of a predator or scavenger. For conservation, customs, trade, and food authorities DNA barcodes are a powerful means to monitor resource exploitation and attempts to swindle with species identities or area of origin of  biological products.

A taxon window in BOLD fro the crab Atelecyclus undecimdentatus. (Click picture to enlarge)

DNA-barcoding certainly also contributes to the mapping of species distributions and to survey genetic characteristics of taxa. Perhaps initially somewhat unexpected, it also reveals many problems in taxonomy that call for resolution through closer studies. More about this will follow in other blog posts.