"In the DNA of living beings, we have identified sections as DNA barcodes that, while being almost identical within a certain species, differ among the various species," explained Prof. Dr. Dietmar Quandt from the Nees Institute for Biodiversity of Plants at the University of Bonn. "Based on these markers, we can then identify species unambiguously and relatively fast." The result of this analysis resembles a barcode at the supermarket; only that it does not come in black and white, but in four colors, with each one corresponding to one of the four letters of the genetic code.
What counts is only (the genetic) make-up
In classical biological taxonomy, animals and plants are identified by their external characteristics. "It is in species of a genus that resemble each other very closely, such as sedges, that definite identification can be a very long process," reported Prof. Quandt, Speaker for the botanical project within the GBOL Initiative. "In addition, we have to rely on competent experts here, who unfortunately are a dying breed nationally." Fully automated sequencing of DNA, however, allows identifying plants much faster. "Besides, we do not need flowering and complete plants," added Stefanie Winter, one of Prof. Quandt's doctoral candidates. "A tiny fragment, e.g., from a leaf, is sufficient for identifying the species based on its genetic markers."
More than 5,000 plant species to be collected
In the GBOL Project, the scientists first want to create a library of sample material for classifying the species. In a concerted initiative with the natural history museums, nature conservancy organizations and proven experts, specific plant samples will be catalogued throughout Germany. "For this purpose, the natural history collections have proven to be invaluable treasure troves since they are providing us with some of their priceless samples," said Prof. Quandt. The challenge is enormous: There are about 4,
|Contact: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Quandt|
University of Bonn