First Steps Taken to Bar Code Nation’s Plant Diversity
Agroup of Indonesian and foreign scientists has begun to identify and bar code the DNA of the country’s diverse plant kingdom, which will later form part of an international inventory to be used for taxonomic and general scientific purposes.
The first stage of the project, which started in December 2008, is focused on collecting plant samples from Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, identifying them and compiling the information into a DNA bar code library or database that will be freely available on a Web site.
The project is being carried out by researchers from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), with technical support from Arnold Arboretum, a research and educational institution linked to Harvard University and the University of British Columbia.
Bar coding as a taxonomic inventory tool was first proposed by the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. In 2003, the Barcode of Life Initiative was established to encourage researchers all over the world to use bar-coding in everyday research.
Dr Gillian Dean, from the University of British Columbia, said in an e-mail interview that much of the biodiversity in the world was found in tropical countries, “and Indonesia is considered to be a biodiversity hotspot.
“Cataloguing Indonesian biodiversity is important for preserving these biological resources, and it is likely that many new species will be found in Indonesia,” Dean said.
She said Gunung Palung National Park was chosen as the first site for the project because it was acclaimed for its range of habitats, from mangroves to mountain cloud forests.
Dean emphasized that the project was an Indonesian initiative, involving researchers from the Herbarium Bogoriense, part of the LIPI Research Center for Biology.
The researchers involved in the project include Dr Teguh Triono, Rani Asmarayani, Endro Setiawan and Hery Yanto, who are managing the fieldwork, and Bekti Sulistiyawati, who is assisting with plant identification.
Technical support is provided by Dr Campbell Webb from Arnold Arboretum and Dean herself.
So far the team has collected more than 400 plant specimens from Gunung Palung National Park and has produced DNA bar codes for about 30 of them, with the remaining bar codes expected to be generated over the next few months.
“To make the DNA bar code library, we first take specimens from known species and then determine the DNA bar code sequence,” Dean said, adding that the Arnold Arboretum is currently funding both the field and lab components of the project.
The bar coding process begins by identifying various plant species using traditional taxonomy procedures.
Leaf specimens, Dean said, are then stored in a silica gel to preserve the DNA, before the samples are sent to LIPI Cibinong, where the bar codes are decoded and sequenced.
A technique called polymerase chain reaction is used to amplify a short specific region of DNA from the genome of the species.
The DNA bar code mean less reliance on morphological features for identification and was expected to give more detailed species information and speedier retrieval. It can be used for basic research in taxonomy, such as identifying which species an unknown specimen belongs to.
Dean said that the bar codes could also be used to monitor changes in biodiversity.
“Agricultural pests can also be monitored to allow better border control. For nature conservation, bar coding is significant as it will allow the inventories of all organisms in an area to be made quickly and easily, and for these ecosystems to be monitored,” Dean said.
“DNA bar codes are not only used to identify new species, but to reveal diversity within a species that may not have been documented before.”
Dr Webb said that some molecular markers could even determine which special population timber came from, “however, the markers used for bar coding are generally not sensitive enough for this.”
Webb said that people could access information on the project at http://phylodiversity.net/flora-tngp/.
However, he said the team had only just started uploading the data, meaning that it was still only a skeleton catalogue pending the addition of more specific information.