University of Toronto scientists are part of an international team of researchers that have identified a pair of genes which they say can be used to quickly and accurately catalog plants around the world. The classification technique is known as DNA barcoding and uses a short genetic marker in an organism's DNA to identify it as belonging to a particular species.
The DNA barcode that can help easily and accurately classify plants worlds
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Invented about five years ago as a method for identifying animal species, the use of DNA barcoding in plants was delayed because of the complex nature of plant genetics and disagreements over which regions to use.
The scientific team "compared the performance of the seven leading candidate gene regions against three criteria: ease of obtaining DNA sequences; quality of the DNA sequences; and ability to tell species apart based on a sample of 550 species of land plants", said Spencer Barrett, a professor at the University of Toronto and the head of the Canadian plant barcoding group.
"Based on this global analysis we recommended that matK and rbcL — two chloroplast genes — are adopted as the DNA barcode for land plants."
The team hopes to apply the classification techniques in the world's biodiversity hotspots where a shortage of botany specialists often slows conservation efforts. Because it is DNA based, the technique can work on very small amounts of tissue including fragments of plant material, small seedlings and in some cases digested or processed samples. These characteristics allow the methodology to be applied to other applications including identifying illegal trade in endangered species, locating and identifying invasive organisms, poisonous species and fragmentary material in forensic investigations.
The classifications immediate benefits will be felt in global projects such as Tree-BOL which aims to build the DNA barcode database for all the species of trees of the world — many of which are of economic and conservation importance.