A 'barcode' gene that can be used to distinguish between the majority of plant species on Earth has been identified by scientists who publish their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal today (Monday 4 February 2008).
This gene, which can be used to identify plants using a small sample, could lead to new ways of easily cataloguing different types of plants in species-rich areas like rainforests. It could also lead to accurate methods for identifying plant ingredients in powdered substances, such as in traditional Chinese medicines, and could help to monitor and prevent the illegal transportation of endangered plant species.
The team behind the discovery found that DNA sequences of the gene 'matK' differ among plant species, but are nearly identical in plants of the same species. This means that the matK gene can provide scientists with an easy way of distinguishing between different plants, even closely related species that may look the same to the human eye.
The researchers made this discovery by analysing the DNA from different plant species. They found that when one plant species was closely related to another, differences were usually detected in the matK DNA.
The researchers, led by Dr Vincent Savolainen, dual appointee at Imperial College London's Department of Life Sciences and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, carried out two large-scale field studies: one on the exceptionally diverse species of orchids found in the tropical forests of Costa Rica, and the other on the trees and shrubs of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Dr Savolainen and his colleagues in the UK worked alongside collaborators from the Universities of Johannesburg and Costa Rica who played a key role in this new discovery.
Using specimens collected from Costa Rica, Dr Savolainen and colleagues were able to use the matK gene to identify 1,600 species of orchid. In the course of this work, they discov
|Contact: Danielle Reeves|
Imperial College London