The DNA Barcode Scanner Featured in The Atlantic & bioGraphic

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Conservation X Labs and the DNA Barcode Scanner were featured in stories for bioGraphic and The Atlantic on the growing movement of technology for conservation. The profiles focused on our DNA Barcode Scanner and its potential to revolutionize the fight against wildlife trafficking and seafood fraud among other fields. Check out each story to learn more about what we do and how we seek to transform the field of conservation!


A Handheld DNA Scanner Could Crack Down on Wildlife Identity Theft

Virginia Gewin, The Atlantic

“The Conservation X Labs device is a first step toward that lofty goal. Using the Barcode of Life Database, the team identifies sequences specific to individual species, then synthesizes these short stretches of DNA and freeze-dries them onto reference chips. It’s not quite Janzen’s dream of a tool capable of identifying any of millions of species. But unlike existing genetic sequencers, which are typically complicated and expensive, this scanner is fast, cheap, and easy to use. It is a handheld, field-ready scanner, the first to swiftly verify, either yes or no, whether something is, indeed, the species someone claims it to be. That alone has utility in law enforcement. If you only need a Ford Fusion, there’s no need to build a Ferrari, says David Baisch, the molecular biologist leading the development of the DNA barcode scanner.”

Tech Support for an Ailing Planet

Virginia Gewin, bioGraphic

“Conservation X Labs also wants to diversify the field of conservation itself. Right now, says Alex Dehgan, co-founder and CEO of Conservation X Labs, “The problem is that conservation is only filled with conservationists.” Dehgan, his co-founder Paul Bunje, and their small team are working to change this, deliberately building a working environment to nurture novel, bold conservation strategies with a specific focus on technology “hacks”—taking existing tools and devices and modifying them to fit new needs. “We’ll need a tribe of hackers, makers, economists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to help a sometimes-technophobic conservation community reverse the sixth mass extinction,” Dehgan says. In other words, they’re forcing a culture clash. The company, with support from the World Wildlife Fund, will soon launch an online digital makerspace, where these disparate groups can find each other and work together to create real-world devices, software, and other tech solutions that can chip away at some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.

The whole field of conservation is in dire need of an upgrade, Dehgan says. When the conservation movement began, proponents directed their energy toward creating parks and preserves. As the field evolved beyond protecting land, conservationists shifted into phase 2, assigning a dollar value to the often-overlooked ecosystem services, such as water purification or pollination of food crops, that nature provides for free. Now, Dehgan and Bunje say, it’s time for Conservation 3.0: innovative technologies and diverse solutions that tackle unaddressed causes of biodiversity loss, not just its symptoms. The device that Conservation X Labs is building with a total of more than $300,000 in funding (including additional money from Schmidt Marine Technology Partners)—a field-ready DNA scanner capable of quickly identifying species—is a prototype for this movement. It’s a device that delivers technology to improve conservation enforcement. But tech fixes like these face an uphill battle, both in development and adoption, and those in the conservation field are watching closely to see if they can succeed.”