Plant barcoding to boost conservation and human health

Wales, which became the first country in the world to DNA barcode all of its flowering plants last week, has said the breakthrough could help plant conservation and human health.

The Barcode Wales project, led by the National Botanic Garden of Wales, amassed a vast database of the 1,143 native flowering plants and conifers in the country, assembling more than 5,700 DNA barcodes.

Head of conservation and research Dr Natasha de Vere said plants could now be identified from pollen grains, seed or root fragments, wood, dung, stomach contents or environmental samples from the air, soil or water.

"We have a powerful platform for a range of research from biodiversity conservation to human health," she added.

PhD student Jenny Hawkins, for example, is working on a joint project with the University of Cardiff to DNA barcode honey for drug discovery. Tests include the honey's ability to kill hospital bugs such as MRSA.

DNA barcoding may also be used to help mitigate the crisis facing pollinators. The botanic garden is working with PhD student Andrew Lucas from Swansea University on the role of hoverflies in pollination.

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