Gustav Paulay, curator of invertebrate zoology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, explains the Moorea Island Biocode Project and discusses its importance. The project is the first and most comprehensive scientific effort to identify, photograph and collect DNA from every visible organism in one particular location.

Interview and videos produced by Ricky Telg for Explore Research at the University of Florida


Gustav Paulay: The Moorea Biocode Project is a three-year, now four-year program to explore and document the life of an island. Moorea is an island 17 kilometers from Tahiti in French Polynesia and it’s about 15 kilometers across and we aim to collect and document every species that lives on the island that’s not microbial, meaning that you can basically see it with your naked eye.

The project includes overviews of every major group of organisms like that, so plants and fungi and insects and fishes and marine invertebrates and so forth, and out of all of these different sub-projects my lab is heading up the marine vertebrate project which involves documenting all of the marine life that’s not fishes or algae on the island.

For each species that we collect we get photographs and also DNA sequences from tissues taken from that organism. We will bring people who specialize on particular groups to the island so that they would help us both collect it and identify what we are getting and also employ a lot of help in the form of technicians and students to mass sample the biota.

We promise to get everything but of course you never can, I mean biodiversity is both too rich in tropical areas like this and challenging to find. There are numerous other projects that are similar but Moorea is the first and the largest in scope of a project that focuses on one place and is really trying to get everything and is really trying to do the DNA of everything as well.

The objective of the project is partly to document what’s there and make that information available through pictures, but also in terms of DNA sequence data. Which means that down the road anybody who’s interested in identifying an organism can either do it through sequencing or if they’re studying things like larvae or the food of other organisms, they can identify even partial remains with DNA sequence data to the species that they came from. So it will really empower ecologists and resource managers to really characterize this incredibly rich biota through molecular means that has heretofore not been possible.

Learn more about Invertebrate Zoology collection at the Florida Museum.

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