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Evol Dev. 2006 Nov-Dec;8(6):491-501.

Lessons from leeches: a call for DNA barcoding in the lab.

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Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.


Many evolution of development labs study organisms that must be periodically collected from the wild. Whenever this is the case, there is the risk that different field collections will recover genetically different strains or cryptic species. Ignoring this potential for genetic variation may introduce an uncontrolled source of experimental variability, leading to confusion or misinterpretation of the results. Leeches in the genus Helobdella have been a workhorse of annelid developmental biology for 30 years. Nearly all early Helobdella research was based on a single isolate, but in recent years isolates from multiple field collections and multiple sites across the country have been used. To assess the genetic distinctness of different isolates, we obtained specimens from most Helobdella laboratory cultures currently or recently in use and from some of their source field sites. From these samples, we sequenced part of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase I (COI). Sequence divergences and phylogenetic analyses reveal that, collectively, the Helobdella development community has worked on five distinct species from two major clades. Morphologically similar isolates that were thought to represent the same species (H. robusta) actually represent three species, two of which coexist at the same locality. Another isolate represents part of a species complex (the "H. triserialis" complex), and yet another is an invasive species (H. europaea). We caution researchers similarly working on multiple wild-collected isolates to preserve voucher specimens and to obtain from these a molecular "barcode," such as a COI gene sequence, to reveal genetic variation in animals used for research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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