Assoc. Prof. Sean Graham, UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research, worked with an international team of more than 50 scientists to develop a standard “DNA barcode” for plants that will allow botanists to identify species quickly and easily.
They hope the results will lead to the formation of a global plant DNA “reference library,” which can be shared by the scientific community. There are an estimated 400,000 species of land plants on the planet.
The DNA barcodes are expected to have a number of practical uses, including monitoring biodiversity in natural and managed ecosystems, identifying invasive species, and assisting law enforcement against illegal trade in endangered species.
“It’s a pragmatic first step in solving a complex issue – how can we rapidly and cheaply identify plant species?” says Graham, who helped author the study recently published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Also working on the project was LFS post-doctoral fellow Diana Percy.
“We selected two areas of the plant genome to tag individual species – genes referred to as rbcL and matK. These genes are available in the vast majority of plants,” explains Graham, who also teaches in the Dept. of Botany.
“They can easily and accurately be sequenced, and when combined, can provide a near-unique signature to generate barcode data and identify species at the molecular level.”
Representing 10 countries, the international team included the universities of Guelph and Toronto, along with scientists from the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe, South and Central America, South Africa and South Korea.