Somebody at the University of Thailand must have a rather cynical impression of pop's leading diva. Behold the recently discovered parasitoid wasp, Aleiodes gaga, named in honor of Lady Gaga. As to why the researchers chose to "honor" Lady Gaga in this way is not entirely clear (they're likely seeking attention — in which case the name is wholly appropriate) — but what's more interesting is how the researchers used a new DNA barcoding technique to quickly confirm its unique place in nature.
This species, along with 178 others, was part of the very first "turbo-taxonomic study" based almost entirely on COI barcoded specimens. By using a fragment of the mitochondrial COI gene, the researchers were able to vastly increase the time it takes to identify and prove the existence of a new species. Given that thousands of such samples can be discovered in tropical regions, the new technique is already proving to be revolutionary.
But not everyone is completely on board this "rapid genetic trawling" technique. Writing in The Guardian, biologist Quentin Wheeler complains that describing a new species based solely on such things as "the nucleic acids at particular bases" is completely inadequate.
Barcode identification, says Wheeler, "use arbitrary measures of genetic distances as an inferior substitute for explicitly testable theories of species based on unique combinations of complex characters." In other words, he'd like to know more about the bug itself in terms of its characteristics, ecological niche, and variability in relation to similar species. "The aim of describing species is to recognise, describe and name the results of evolution," he writes, "not to proliferate the number of names in reference to ephemeral shifts in gene frequencies or, in this case, in nucleic acids."
That said, Wheeler does recognize the importance of turbo-taxonomy to the field and suggests that it's here to stay. Looking ahead, he hopes it will be used in conjunction with more thorough investigations.
The research was conducted by Buntika Areekul Butcher of Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, with international collaborators M Alex Smith, University of Guelph, Mike J Sharkey, University of Kentucky, and Donald LJ Quicke, Imperial College London.
Image via Observer.