Also mentoring the students were Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University and vice-president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; Damon Little of the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics, The New York Botanical Garden; and Selena Ahmed of Tufts University. One of the world's top experts on teas, Ahmed co-authored the 2011 book Tea Horse Road about tea production, trade, and ancient tea rituals in southwestern China where tea drinking probably originated.
In addition to the unlisted ingredients, the young scientists helped discover that the tea plant includes a genetic difference between broad-leaf assamica variety tea exported from India and small-leaf sinensis variety tea exported from China, the two largest tea-producing countries by far.
"We were excited to make a genetic discovery, particularly in an important crop plant like tea that scientists have scrutinized in detail," says Young.
"This finding will help track commercial shipments and aid research on the geographic origin and diversity of wild and cultivated tea plant resources," says Ahmed.
Says Little: "After tea ingredients are dried and processed into powders it is very difficult to determine which species the ingredients came from. This study demonstrates the power of DNA barcoding to easily and rapidly identify plant materials. I hope that manufacturers will adopt this technology for quality assurance."
The students also helped construct a "Klee diagram," a clever new way to visually represent the genetic relationship between species. Like a heat map, where hot is shown in red and cold in blue, their Klee diagram depicts the genetic relationships among and within the families of plants consumed as teas, using a color scale from red (a close genetic relationship) to blue (distant). Based on the DNA of 39 plants tested, the im
|Contact: Zach Veilleux|