Plant identification using molecular barcoding has a huge potential for biodiversity, conservation, and monitoring of trade in plant genetic resources for pharmaceutical manufacturing, horticulture and tropical timber trade. DNA barcoding as a method has been embraced in science, especially for identification of animals and fungi. In recent years, researchers have successfully shown the power and accuracy of DNA barcoding by creating molecular identification systems for various purposes, such as the identification of cryptic species, species adulteration in marine food products, tracing illegal ivory trade, and assessing tropical forest diversity.
Plant barcoding has lagged in absence of a suitable single identification marker, and quality trade-offs of the various other proposed markers. Furthermore, accurate species identification requires a clear definition of intraspecific variation versus interspecific variation, which is also known as the barcoding gap. The presence or absence of a barcoding gap has been disputed, but ultimately a practical approach needs to be adopted to enable widespread use of plant DNA barcoding. Previous research has focused on the use of two or more molecular markers for DNA barcoding, but the advent of high throughput sequencing allows a genomic approach to DNA barcoding using full chloroplast genomes. In addition, target-enrichment methods allow amplification of genetic data from degraded material, such as herbarium collections, traded and processed material and forensic traces, which in turn reduces the need to rely on short molecular markers.
Research in my group focuses on:
Molecular identification of processed plant products in trade, specifically of medicinal plant species susceptible to adulteration, overharvested and endangered taxa, and monitoring of cross-border trade in CITES-listed species.
Combining chloroplast genome data and de novo next-gen generated chloroplast genomes, to make more accurate analysis of intra and interspecific genetic variation, with the specific aim of automated species identification
Development of specific target-enrichment methods for efficient generation of genetic data from degraded material, such as herbarium collections, and traded and processed material.
These technological and methodological advances may help unlock the huge potential for accurate plant identification using molecular tools to support vital public policies and tasks, such as conserving biodiversity, monitoring trade in plant genetic resources for pharmaceutical manufacturing, horticulture and tropical timber industries, and the enforcement of the CBD Nagoya protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing.