DNA barcoding helps in checking illicit trade in endangered plants

Monika Kundu Srivastava

New Delhi: Indian scientists have developed a reference library to provide molecular identity to a threatened plant species, Decalepis, found in peninsular India – Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Decalepis is a medicinal plant species which is in the Red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and declared as a species with high conservation concern by the National Biodiversity Authority of India. The plant is used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for treatments of disorders related to digestive system, lungs and circulatory system. Its highly aromatic tuberous roots are used as a rejuvenating tonic by the native Kani tribe of Southern Western Ghats.

The study shows that barcoding markers can be used to correctly identify similarities within a species. DNA barcoding uses a gene or a DNA sequence to identify an organism as belonging to a particular species, much like the barcode printed on a product in a shop. The shopkeeper can just scan the barcode and locate or identify the product in the shop. In the same way, DNA barcoding is used to identify unknown samples by looking at a preexisting classification. No such reference existed for Decalepis till now.

Researchers tested the ability of chosen markers for Decalepis to rightly identify the species. The methods provided 75% to 100% correct identification. This helped to develop a standard protocol to catalogue species identity of Decalepis. A total of 17 individuals representing all the three species of Decalepis and hemidesmus indicus (Indian sarsaparilla or Anantmul), were sequenced using five DNA barcodes.

“The DNA barcodes we have developed can identify the species even from a minute amount of tissue, which can help in tackling illegal trade of endangered species,” Dr. V. Sundaresan, a scientist at the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Bengaluru, explained.

The research team included Priyanka Mishra, Amit Kumar and Dr. Gokul Sivaraman from Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Bengaluru; Dr. Ashutosh K. Shukla, Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow; Dr. Ravikumar Kaliamoorthy from Trans Disciplinary University, Bengaluru, and Prof. Adrian Slater from De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. The study results have been published in journal Scientific Reports recently.

Twitter handle: @monikaksrivast1


One solution for different problems

Dr TV Venkateswaran and Jyoti Singh

New Delhi: Can there be one solution for preventing heart attacks, measuring soil moisture and detecting explosives?
All these may sound disjointed, random problems, but scientists say it is possible to address them using the same concept or technology platform. Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, have achieved this.

The solutions are all based on a technology platform that can detect a chemical binding between a source molecule and a target molecule in a device with very high sensitivity, and integrating them with highly sensitive mechanical and electronic transduction in nano devices.

Heart attack occurs because blood flow to the heart gets blocked for some reason or other and cardiac muscles starts dying. If this can be diagnosed early on, the patient can be saved. The standard procedure is to conduct ECG when a patient complains of chest pain. Treatment is started immediately if the test shows abnormalities. But, many times abnormalities do not show up in ECG report. In such cases, doctors have to conduct blood tests.

The test works by detecting biomarkers for myocardial infarction in a blood sample. Stress generated when cardiac muscle start to die induces production of proteins like troponin and myoglobin. These biomarkers appear in blood samples. The device detects these. It is a nano mechanical platform that integrates chemistry with mechanics and electronics.

High technology is one thing, being handy and practical is another. The devices have been available for some years now. However, there is a need to make them more affordable for the poor and also make them easier to operate. A team of researchers led by the Director of IIT, Delhi, Ramgopal Rao, have achieved this.

Speaking to India Science Wire, he noted, “When we set out our framework for development of the sensor we told ourselves: we should be able to detect the markers within ten minutes, the cost of test should be affordable and it should not require a super specialist to administer, any doctor even at a primary heath care center should be able to use it. Only then it would be socially relevant and practical. We are thrilled that we have been able to achieve this.”

As regards the soil moisture sensor, he said, the technology was presently being field tested in farm condition. “Such technologies are available in the international market. But they are unaffordable and bewildering to mostly uneducated Indian farmer. We need technologies that are affordable and easily operable by Indian farmers. If they cost Rs.10,000 in international market, we need them at Rs.100. There is no short cut to developing technologies on our own”.

On the device for detecting explosives, he said it was also in the final stages of technology development.

Prof V Ramgopal Rao is a well-known nanotechnologist. He was earlier chief investigator for the Centre of Excellence in Nano Electronics project at IIT-Bombay, where he played a key role in establishing a startup called NanoSniff Technologies Pvt Ltd.

Born in a small town Kollapur in Telangana, he did his bachelors from the Kakatiya University in technology. He completed M Tech from IIT-Bombay and doctorate from Munich in Germany. He started his career in nanoelectronics and for a long time his research work was on complementary metal oxide semiconductors.

Prof Rao has over 400 publications in the area of electronic devices andnanoelectronics in international journals. He is a recipient of many awards including the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prize, Infosys Prize and Prof C.N.R. Rao National Nanoscience Award. He holds 32 patents including 13 US patents. Many of them have been put into use for commercial purposes.

Among other things, he has had a stint at chipmaker Intel. There his work mainly focused on extending the life of batteries used in mobile phones. Many of his inventions form part of the microprocessors produced by the company. (India Science Wire)

Twitter handles: @tvven, @ashajyoti11