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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

DNA analysis means death of taxonomy (determining what a "species" is)?

According to Bob Grant, in The Scientist (June 2009), traditional taxonomy is a fading field:
It isn't hard to see why:

Just like the organisms taxonomists study, the discipline of systematics and biology as a whole was evolving. By the 1980s, the field of systematics, like many other fields, became entranced by the promise of DNA analysis and its ability to decipher genetic codes, enabling taxonomists to look past an animal's skin and into its cells.

[ ... ]

Now older taxonomists like Wood and Judd are retiring from museum and university positions, with institutions tending not to replace them with more taxonomists. The United Kingdom's Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, for example, has not had a gymnosperm taxonomist since the last one there retired in 2006, and has not replaced its last fern specialist, who retired in 2007.

Perhaps it's a bit like paternity analysis. People want a simple yes/no answer, not a saga, and you can't entirely blame them. But something is surely lost as well as gained.

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