A team of international scientists launched an ambitious project on Thursday to genetically identify, or provide a barcode for, every plant and animal species on the planet.

By taking a snippet of DNA from all the known species on Earth and linking them to photographs, descriptions and scientific information, the researchers plan to build the largest database of its kind.

“We have discovered that it is quite possible to have a short DNA sequence that can characterize just about every form of life on the planet,” Dr Richard Lane, director of science at the Natural History Museum in London, told a news conference.

Less than a fifth of the Earth’s estimated 10 million species of plants and animals have been named. Researchers working on the Barcode of Life Initiative hope that genetically identifying all of them in a standardized way on a global scale will speed up the discovery of new ones.

Current techniques used to identify minute differences between species are complicated, time consuming and require specialist knowledge.

“What we are looking at is a new method which will allow just about anyone, in any part of the world, to recognize organisms without recourse to a particular specialist,” said Lane.

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