Bridging biodiversity science, DNA technology, and local knowledge

Tracking the state of biodiversity in the Canadian Arctic 

By fostering collaborations and seeking guidance from the local community, ARCBIO will produce diverse resources for all Canadians. 

Reference Library

Build a DNA barcode reference library of Arctic organisms

Wildlife Health

Establish a sampling framework to monitor the health of locally harvested species

Media Tools

Develop a range of digital media content documenting biodiversity on Inuit lands and in their communities

Education & Community

Provide educational tools for communities, schools and educators in the North, across Canada, and around the world

Bringing DNA technology to biodiversity science

Conventional biodiversity surveys rely on human expertise to identify organisms visually, so only a limited number of well-known plants and animals can be effectively recognized.

By contrast, ARCBIO will employ a new approach towards identifying species using their unique genetic structure. This approach looks at patterns of similarity in a specific small part of an organism’s genome the ‘DNA barcode’ region.

What is a DNA barcode?

In 2003, Paul Hebert and colleagues proposed the use of sequence diversity in short, standardized gene regions – the ‘DNA barcode’ – for specimen identification and species discovery. Their research demonstrated that most species can be differentiated with limited sequence information. As a result, highly effective identification systems can be based on a single or, at most, a few sequence reads. Termed DNA barcoding, this approach has now gained general acceptance.


How does DNA barcoding work?

It is a very simple process:

Step 1: Isolate DNA from the sample
Step 2: Amplify the target DNA barcode region using PCR
Step 3: Sequence the PCR products
Step 4: Compare the resulting sequences against reference databases to find the matching species

Why is DNA technology important in the Arctic?

Taking advantage of recent progress in DNA technology, we can now automate and scale up the process of species identification.

This makes it possible to expand monitoring to include organisms that are small and hard to identify (e.g. insects or mosses). It also allows the detection of important or rare organisms by analyzing traces of their DNA in the environment (e.g. in water) and inside other animals (e.g. blood inside mosquitoes).


Over decades, the Inuit have observed environmental changes in the Arctic, such as differences in sea ice thaw and migratory patterns of species. Integrated with data collected by researchers, these observations form an important source of knowledge about the state of the Arctic.

ARCBIO aims to reinforce this knowledge by improving capacity to monitor changes in biological communities in the Canadian Arctic and by offering a new context for integrating scientific data with local expert input.

We wish to ensure that the scope of our project is relevant to issues facing Kitikmeot communities and that the proposed research activities do not negatively affect land use by locals.


ARCBIO will encourage participation from professional and citizen scientists and will facilitate easier access to research results by any interested members of local, particularly Indigenous communities. These data will help to inform public policy and to address the impacts of ecological and climatic change, such as the spread of invasive species, wildlife diseases, or changes in the availability of country foods and other natural resources.


Recent News & Field Blog

Exploring The Arctic

Hi there, my name is Alana Tallman, and I am a student at University of Guelph helping out with the Arctic Bioscan project on behalf of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG). This is my first time being out in the field, so I have been looking at every experience...

read more

The 2019 field season has begun!

Discovering what lives in Canada's Arctic requires a team of people to search for and collect an array of creatures, from a vast quantity of insects and other invertebrates to specific samples of mosses and lichens. We are here for a second season of field work to...

read more

Meet Hannah James & Michelle D’Souza

Hannah James has more than 15 years of experience in journalism and communications. She has produced national TV documentaries covering a range of Indigenous rights issues, and has written about Truth and Reconciliation. Dr. Michelle D'Souza has seven years of...

read more

The Arctic BIOSCAN project is part of a larger global effort to set up real-time monitoring platforms for multi-cellular living organisms.

Leadership Team

ARCBIO involves a diverse leadership team of biologists, social scientists, and media specialists who are making use of the internationally renowned capacities of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics in developing DNA-based identification systems.

Project Communication

Alex Borisenko

I am the project manager for ARCBIO, coordinating its research logistics. Trained as a ‘classical’ zoologist, I became involved in DNA barcoding in 2004, with particular interest in biodiversity of small mammals, international development and policy.

Tad McIlwraith

I am a cultural anthropologist with over 20 years of experience working with First Nations communities documenting local history and Indigenous knowledge. As the University of Guelph’s Research Ethics Board member, I will advise the project leads on ethical standards and best practices for community-based research.

Hannah James

I am part of the ARCBIO media team with over 15 years of experience in media and communications. I have worked as a journalist covering Indigenous issues, including Truth and Reconciliation.

Michelle D'Souza

I am part of the ARCBIO media team focused on science research communications. I have 7 years of experience working with local communities on biodiversity projects in Central America as a science researcher and creative communicator.

Project Advisors

Prof. Claire Jardine

Dr. Jardine has over 15 years of practise in wildlife health and manages the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative for Ontario & Nunavut. She will be advising ARCBIO on matters of wildlife health.

Dr. Ian Hogg

Dr. Hogg is an expert in Polar diversity and the Team Lead for Ecosystem and Cryosphere Research at Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR) and the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS). He is the lead research contact for ARCBIO at CHARS.

Dr. Jennie Knopp

Dr. Knopp has over 12 years of experience working at the interface of Indigenous Knowledge and scientific knowledge, community-based research and monitoring, and community engagement in the Canadian Arctic including in the Kitikmeot Region.

Dr. Paul Hebert

ARCBIO is led by Prof. Paul Hebert at the University of Guelph, a world-renowned expert in DNA-based approaches and Director of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics – the world’s largest DNA barcoding facility.

Our Partners

Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR)

Polar Knowledge Canada is a new federal organization responsible for advancing Canada’s knowledge of the Arctic and strengthening Canadian leadership in polar science and technology. POLAR will anchor a strong research presence in the Canadian Arctic which serves Canada and the world, while advancing Canada’s knowledge of the Arctic in order to improve economic opportunities, environmental stewardship, and the quality of life of Northerners and all Canadians. Polar Knowledge Canada includes a pan-northern science and technology program monitoring Canada’s North, and the world-class Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) campus in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

University of Guelph

The University of Guelph is a research-intensive institute in Ontario, Canada with multiple campuses spanning urban hubs and rural communities. Known for their excellence in arts and sciences, the university currently has 29,507 undergraduate and graduate students with 1,400 international students from over 120 countries. The Guelph faculty scholars and researchers provide groundbreaking research opportunities in laboratories, art studios, libraries and in the field. Their Office of Research oversees a $146 million research enterprise including 15 active research stations. The contributions made to ARCBIO by the University of Guelph include advisory on wildlife health as well as ethical standards for community-based research.

Centre for Biodiversity Genomics

As the global leader in the field of DNA barcoding, the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBD) aims to build tools for specimen identification and species discovery. Its unique research capacity reflects the coupling of one of Canada’s largest genomics platforms with a workforce that includes world-class expertise in biodiversity science, DNA sequencing, and informatics. The innovative approach taken by the CBD is distinctive in its taxonomic scope of its work and by its commitment to genomic minimalism. As opposed to sequencing entire genomes, the Centre employs sequence diversity in targeted gene regions to advance understanding of the diversity, distribution, and interactions of multicellular life.

Oceans North

Oceans North is a non-profit organization based in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. Their intention is to promote policies and programs addressing unprecedented environmental changes, and to ensure northern waters are protected within the realm of Inuit knowledge, rights, and consultation. Oceans North supports partnerships with Indigenous organizations and northern communities to better understand the unique challenges facing Northern life. This process unites different perspectives of sophisticated ecological knowledge in marine conservation by combining scientists, natural resource managers, and Inuit organizations to start building a healthy future.

Share This