Small steps lead to big initiatives: Pakistan reaffirms support for iBOL by launching PakBOL

From economically important insect species to plants to food security, Pakistani researchers are working to barcode all life in their country through a national initiative - PakBOL.

PakBOL inauguration with Margaux McDonald, Canada’s Senior Trade Commissioner in Pakistan (left) and Dr. Ghazala Yasmin, Vice Chancellor of Women University Mardan.

PHOTO CREDIT: Hina Jabeen

With continued interest in documenting native biodiversity and cognizance about the applications of barcode data, the scientific community in Pakistan has reiterated its support for the iBOL Consortium and its new venture BIOSCAN by launching the national initiative, Pakistan Barcode of Life (PakBOL).

PakBOL launched in the presence of more than 120 scientists, academicians, students, and other stakeholders in biodiversity and pest management sciences who gathered in Islamabad for the 3rd international conference on “Empowering Nation through Science” organized by the Women University Mardan.

PakBOL attended by Pakistani representatives from 15 universities and several government and non-government organizations
PHOTO CREDIT: Hina Jabeen

The two-day conference was attended by Pakistani representatives from 15 universities and several government and non-government organizations including Higher Education Commission, Directorate of Biodiversity, Ministry of Climate Change, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and Dairy Science Park.

International delegates were also in attendance, including the Canadian High Commission Islamabad, Oxford Brooks University (UK), International Foundation of Science (Sweden), Organization for Women in Science for Developing Countries (Italy), Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (Canada).

Pakistan has been an active member of iBOL since it joined the consortium in 2011, generating more than 50,000 barcode records. Over the last eight years, these efforts have provided coverage for 6,300 animal BINs (proxy for species) and 350 plant species.

Researchers sampling in the foothills of Kashmir, Pakistan.
PHOTO CREDIT: Muhammad Ashfaq

But the amount of barcode data generated so far pales in comparison with the species richness and size (882,000 km2) of the country. Most of the barcoding work in Pakistan has been carried out by a few labs with 99% of the generated data representing arthropods.

The very first barcoding project in Pakistan “Sequencing DNA barcodes of economically important insect species of Pakistan” conducted jointly by the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, Pakistan, and the University of Guelph, Canada, successfully introduced DNA barcoding to the country producing 5,000 barcodes within the first year of its launch (2010 – 2012).

Although the resources available for the project were inadequate for large-scale barcode coverage of the country’s arthropod fauna, the project helped to create understanding among local researchers about barcoding science. The subsequent financial support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), through the University of Guelph, helped Pakistani researchers expand barcoding activities in the country, generate barcode data from other organisms including plants, and develop national networking opportunities. This helped Pakistan become a National Node in iBOL’s first research program BARCODE 500K and contributed to the documentation of biodiversity on the planet.

With continued interest in DNA barcoding research, Pakistan has formally joined as a member nation of the iBOL Consortium to participate in its global initiative – BIOSCAN. Pakistan is already participating in the Global Malaise Program led by the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics in Guelph and, with the launch of BIOSCAN, it plans to expand this program to all the ecoregions in the country. 

Participating in the Global Malaise Program from Lahore, Pakistan.
PHOTO CREDIT: Shahbaz Ahmad 

Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS), Quetta is leading the efforts to organize a network of universities and research organizations; their aim is to promote and strengthen barcoding research in Pakistan to achieve the goal of documenting all fauna and flora in the country.

Several universities in Pakistan, including BUITEMS, the University of Sargodha, GC University Lahore, University of Swat, University of Sindh Jamshoro, GC University Faisalabad, University of Rawalakot Azad Kashmir, Punjab University Lahore, LCWU Lahore, and Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad have been involved in barcoding research but lack a common platform to coordinate barcoding activities. PakBOL will provide that platform to the barcoding community in Pakistan to coordinate efforts to achieve their common goal.

An initiative taken eight years ago with a small project on barcoding pest insects has now expanded to a national effort with a much broader goal – barcoding all life in Pakistan. And PakBOL aims to achieve just that!

Read more about Pakistan:

DNA BARCODING WILD FLORA IN PAKISTAN’S FORESTS

Preserving voucher specimens and creating a virtual herbarium to understand and protect some of the oldest living trees on the planet.

UNIVERSITY OF SINDH JAMSHORO BARCODES GRASSHOPPERS IN PAKISTAN’S THAR DESERT

Tracking the shift of non-pests to crop pests, a phenomenon accelerated by anthropogenic pressures in the Thar Desert.

Written by

Muhammad Ashfaq

Muhammad Ashfaq

Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph

June 10, 2019

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