Plant sample data bank opens way for DNA tests to back court action

Scientists are amassing a vast bank of plant samples that could be used in court cases over breeders' rights.

National Institute of Agricultural Botany head of ornamental crops Elisabeth Scott said the pilot project involved taking samples from each plant tested on their variety.

The material would be stored on behalf of the EU's Community Plant Variety Office, which covers plant variety rights across 27 states, and could be used for DNA tests.

The first problem a breeder had when taking legal action was proving they owned the variety, she added. In future, they would immediately have a chain of evidence.

"If the owner wants to go to court they can apply to take a subsample," she said. "That could be used for DNA fingerprinting. The sample is taken from the plant tested - it has pedigree and gives you a chain of evidence."

Plant breeder Caroline Whetman said, at present, the genetic fingerprinting technology was prohibitively costly to prove ownership for intellectual property issues.

However, taxonomist Marco Hoffman said DNA technology for plants made identification faster and easier using tiny samples from young, not just older, plants.

New technology proved water lily, not magnolia, was the most primitive plant family while Apiaceae and Asteraceae, not orchids, were the most developed in evolution.

Evermore varieties and cultivated plants moving further away from their wild forebears had led to a "Wild West in nomenclature where there are no rules and no limitations," said Hoffman.

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