A milestone is being celebrated at the University of Guelph.

For two decades, researchers at the University of Guelph have been busy trying to identify all of the organisms in the world, one specimen at a time.

This month marks twenty years since Paul Hebert and his research team discovered a short stretch of genetic material could be used to distinguish species of animals. The discovery introduced the term “DNA barcoding”.

“When we first proposed it, there was a bit of friction in the scientific community. A few people weren’t quite convinced how well it would work. So, it was a matter of demonstrating that,” Paul Hebert, the director of the Centre of Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph said.

Since then, the university has collected over eight million specimens from all over the world.

“We’re hoping to build a biodiversity library with DNA barcodes,” Jayme Sones, the Collections Manager at the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph said.

Through international agreements, collections are made in several countries, then sent to the university to be separated and identified.

“We don’t have a biodiversity monitoring capacity on our planet, and yet, we know life is at risk,” Hebert said.

Each specimen is categorized and loaded into wet or dry samples. Those samples are then stored and can be made available for researchers to use around the world.

“If you understand where organisms are distributed, you can do a better job of deciding what sites you should protect,” Hebert said.

According to Hebert, there is still a lot of the world that needs to be explored before researchers can categorize every living specimen. But he hopes with continued support they can use the information to monitor biodiversity and try and save species from extinction.