26 June 2012

Barcode project puts Wales Number 1 in the world

Cropped version of press release...
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 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.


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, natasha.devere@gardenofwales.org.uk 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/

High Performance Computing (HPC) Wales http://www.hpcwales.co.uk Contact: Georgina Thompson Georgina.Thomson@hpcwales.co.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/

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