The Tree of Life, COI-ly

The September 30th issue of the Economist points to an article in PLoS Biology by Hebert, et al, discussing a new technique for identifying species. The technique, which relies on mitochondirial genes for cytochrome c oxidase I (COI), which is a 648 pair gene. [1]

This technique helps settle the question of “Is Astraptes fulgerator one species or several?”[2]. The butterfly in question looks the same as a butterfly, but there are important variations in the caterpillar forms.

Which, as I strugle to create a taxonomy for a specific set of computer security issues, shows that I am doomed to fail, and that may just be ok.

[1] Who the heck told them they could throw a ‘c’ out in the midst of a protien name like that? Do these people have no respect for the English language?
[2] It was keeping me awake at night, too. (As many as 10 species in Costa Rica alone.)

2 Comments on "The Tree of Life, COI-ly"


  1. This is such an anthrocentric article. But then again the magazine is The Economist.
    The article begins: “There may be more species on Earth than previously imagined.” Imagined by whom? Any experts on species and speciation have known for a long time that not only are there more species than we can imagine, it is impossible to quantify because the species concept (of a population of organisms that share a gene pool and that exhibit barriers to gene transfer with other populations) breaks down in many situations, particularly in the microbial world.
    Anyone who has studies plants, fungi, microbes would agree with Hamlet’s statement applied more specifically to the diversity of life: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of In your philosophy”
    Thanks for bringing this up I’ll be posting on the topic soon.


  2. By the way I don’t believe you are doomed to fail. Like they do in the PLOS article, you need to choose whats important and organize around that.
    The Mitochondrial gene in question is an important choice for anisogamous multicellular organisms since Mitochondria are (usually and mostly) inherited from one parent.
    Unfortunately this method of identifying species doesn’t work for most life on earth, but clearly they aren’t concerned with most life on earth so they should be ok.
    Define the scope of your analysis and then pick your taxonomic keys intelligently and you should rock and roll for the most part.

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