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DNA 'barcode' identified for plants
Date:2/5/2008

ered that what was previously assumed to be one species of orchid was actually two distinct species that live on different slopes of the mountains and have differently shaped flowers adapted for different pollinating insects.

In South Africa the team was able to use the matK gene to identify the trees and shrubs of the Kruger National Park, also well known for its big game animals.

Dr Savolainen explains that in the long run the aim is to build on the genetic information his team gathered from Costa Rica and South Africa to create a genetic database of the matK DNA of as many plant species as possible, so that samples can be compared to this database and different species accurately identified.

"In the future we'd like to see this idea of reading plants' genetic barcodes translated into a portable device that can be taken into any environment, which can quickly and easily analyse any plant sample's matK DNA and compare it to a vast database of information, allowing almost instantaneous identification, " he says.

Although Dr Savolainen concedes that such technological applications may be some years away from realisation, he says the potential uses of the matK gene are substantial: "There are so many circumstances in which traditional taxonomic identification of plant species is not practical - whether it be at ports and airports to check if species are being transported illegally, or places like Costa Rica where the sheer richness of one group of plants, like orchids, makes accurate cataloguing difficult."

The matK gene may not, however, be able to be used to identify every plant species on Earth. In a few groups of species, additional genetic information may be required for species-level identification because hybridization - where species cross-breed and genetic material is rearranged - may confuse the information provided by matK.

This research was funded by the Defra Darwin Initiative, the Universities of Joh
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Contact: Danielle Reeves
danielle.reeves@imperial.ac.uk
44-020-759-42198
Imperial College London
Source:Eurekalert

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