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Barcode project puts Wales Number 1 in the world
Wales has become the first country in the world to DNA barcode all its flowering plants.
This scientific breakthrough opens up huge potential for the future of plant conservation and human health.
The work to make Wales No 1 in the world was carried out at the National Botanic Garden in collaboration with Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales and project partners from various universities.
The Barcode Wales project, led by the National Botanic Garden’s Head of Conservation and Research Dr Natasha de Vere, has created a reference database of DNA barcodes based on the 1143 native flowering plants and conifers of Wales, assembling over 5700 DNA barcodes.
Plants can now be identified from pollen grains, fragments of seed or roots, wood, dung, stomach contents or environmental samples collected from the air, soil or water.
Dr de Vere explained the importance of the project: “Wales is now in the unique position of being able to identify plant species from materials which in the past would have been incredibly difficult or impossible. Through the Barcode Wales project, we have created a powerful platform for a broad range of research from biodiversity conservation to human health”.
Dr Tim Rich said: “We have taken DNA samples from thousands of specimens in the National Museum’s collections. This technique opens up a whole new set of uses for our collections.”
DNA barcodes are short sequences of DNA which are unique to each species and can be used to identify plant species from tiny fragments of plant material. They have a whole range of applications from conserving rare species to developing new drugs.
The Welsh flora DNA barcodes are freely available on the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD) for use by researchers throughout the world. The creation of this DNA barcode library is reported in the journal PLoS ONE http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0037945
The National Botanic Garden receives funding from the Welsh Government for its scientific research and educational work promoting science-based activities.
Housing Regeneration and Heritage Minister, Huw Lewis said: “I am delighted the Garden has achieved a significant world first. Welsh Government funding is helping the Garden provide the people of Wales with an institution dedicated to biodiversity and sustainability and it has now put Wales on the world stage in plant sciences research. Congratulations to Natasha and her team.”
Professor John Harries, Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, congratulated the team responsible for this achievement: “This is a really significant project that will help highlight and promote the expertise in Wales. The Garden is gaining a strong international reputation as a centre for plant sciences research, and is playing a key role in supporting and training the next generation of plant scientists, which is great news for Wales.”
Dr de Vere paid tribute to Garden staff and volunteers, Dr Tim Rich of the National Museum Wales and the project partners Aberystwyth University, Glamorgan University, University of the West of England, the Botanical Society of the British Isles, and High Performance Computing (HPC) Wales.
Barcodes and the battle against disease
The National Botanic Garden of Wales is already collaborating with partners throughout the UK on DNA barcoding applications.
PhD student Jenny Hawkins is working on a joint project between the Garden and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cardiff University to DNA barcode honey for drug discovery.
Jenny has collected honey from throughout the UK and is testing its ability to kill the hospital acquired infections, MRSA and Clostridium difficile, she will then DNA barcode the honey to find out what plants the bees visited to make it.
Said Jenny: “We know some of the medicinal properties of honey come from the plants the bees visit. By DNA barcoding the honey, we are looking for links between honey with good medicinal properties and particular plant species. If we find it, we might be able to make a super honey by allowing bees to forage on plants that provide high antibacterial properties.”
Barcodes and the fate of pollinators
DNA barcoding may also be able to help in the crisis facing our pollinators. Dr de Vere is working with PhD student Andrew Lucas from the Swansea Ecology Research Team (SERT) at Swansea University to investigate the role that hoverflies play in pollination.
Andrew says: “Hoverflies play a key role in pollination but we know very little about their behaviour. My research will collect hoverflies and find out where they go by DNA barcoding the pollen carried on their bodies. We are interested in how hoverflies move through the landscape and the importance of habitat quality.”
This work builds on a project with Aberystwyth University that examined bee pollination within species rich grasslands.
Barcoding the rest of the UK
The Barcode Wales team is now joining forces with more partners to DNA barcode the rest of the UK native and alien flora. The National Botanic Garden of Wales, Amgueddfa Cymru and University of Glamorgan are joining teams from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh led by Prof Pete Hollingsworth and Imperial College and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew led by Prof Vincent Savolainen.
DNA barcoding uses specific regions of DNA to act as unique identifier for species. First a reference database of DNA barcodes is created using known samples and then unknown DNA sequences can be compared to these to allow an identification to be made. Projects are now underway throughout the world to DNA barcode all living things and ensure that these barcodes are freely available online as a global resource.
The scientific community have agreed on sections of two genes called rbcL and matK to act as the DNA barcodes for plants. These genes can be used to catalogue plant life as they have a slightly different code between species but are very similar within a species.
Creation of the Barcode Wales Database Project Partners
National Botanic Garden of Wales: Dr Natasha de Vere, Col Ford, Sarah Trinder, Charlie Long, Chris Moore, Danielle Satterthwaite, Helena Davies. http://www.gardenofwales.org.uk/science/barcode-wales/ Contact: Dr Natasha de Vere, email@example.com 01558 667126
Department of Biodiversity and Systematic Biology, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales: Dr Tim Rich
Faculty of Advanced Technology, University of Glamorgan: Hannah Garbett, Dr Tatiana Tatarinova http://fat.glam.ac.uk/
Department of Applied Sciences, University of the West of England: Dr Joel Allainguillaume.
Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), Aberystwyth University: Dr Sandra Ronca, Prof Mike Wilkinson http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/ibers/
Botanical Society of the British Isles: Dr Kevin Walker http://www.bsbi.org.uk/
Applications of DNA barcoding: Project partners
Honey and drug discovery: School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Cardiff University: Jenny Hawkins, Prof Les Baillie http://www.cf.ac.uk/phrmy/
Pollination and hoverflies: Swansea Ecology Research Team (SERT), Swansea University: Andrew Lucas, Dr Dan Forman http://www.swan.ac.uk/biosci/research/sert/